It's been four years since Richard and Judy waved farewell to their daily chat show, but the Richard and Judy Book Club is still going strong. The on- and off-screen couple have just released their latest autumn shortlist and with it comes details of a new competition sure to excite budding writers. The premise is simple – any previously unpublished author can submit the first 10,000-12,000 words of their novel plus a synopsis of what will follow for a chance to win a publishing deal and a hefty £50,000 advance. The deadline is 1 January 2014 when the entries will be judged by Richard, Judy, a selection of editors at the book's future publisher Quercus and experts from literary agency Furniss Lawton.
RadioTimes.com caught up with Richard and Judy at the competition launch to collect their tips for budding authors and hear why they never miss the buzz of daily television....
So, what can you tell us about the competition?
Richard: It’s a big deal – it’s going to make a splash. We will pick the winner, it’ll be our choice and that person gets a £50,000 advance. They’ll obviously then submit the complete novel and get full representation by a proper bona fide agent and get a big PR push. By being picked and with everything that will then go with it, it will be a bestseller. It will change someone’s life.
Do you have any idea what you're looking for?
Judy: No, we’ve deliberately left it open to all genres so it could be a crime fiction story, it could be a Fifty Shades of Grey, it could be a romance, it could be a historical novel – we’ve literally left it wide open because we’re really trying to find a new writer, not a new specific type of writer.
What advice can you offer to entrants?
Richard: Everybody writes in a different style and in a different way. Someone once said in terms of books: “All advice is useless, you just do it your way and do it with confidence.” It’s just got to be a rattling good read. The kind of thing you’d say to a friend in the office, “You’ve got to read this book – it’s an amazing book.” It’s got to hit you right in the spot. So many people want to write these days, it’s becoming rather rock 'n' roll so we are going to get a bestseller, no doubt about it.
You've both written your own debut novels since setting up the Book Club – did you feel under pressure to match the quality of the books you select each year?
Judy: Oh, yes. We both felt petrified about being published for the first time ourselves because everyone associates us with books – for so many years we’ve been involved with book clubs and had loads of opinions about books so yes, it was an enormous risk to actually publish yourself. I’m just hugely relieved that both of them have been a success because it would have been embarrassing….
Richard: It would have been awful! Say mine just hadn’t sold and been critically kicked in the pants – at some point you would have to say the elephant in the room. "The thing is, Richard, there you are advising people on what to read but you had a crack at it yourself and couldn’t do it – what do you think went wrong?" Oh no, it would just be so humiliating.
Did you spend ages debating whether or not to do it?
Judy: I didn’t because I started mine ages ago. I umm-ed and ahh-ed about letting anyone see it. My first ten thousand words, I wouldn’t let anybody see except Richard. I just wouldn’t. Although I wanted to write it and it was important to me to write it, the idea of actually having an agent or a publisher look at it was horrible.
Richard: It was a runaway success but in a sense that made me even more nervous because she was right up there straight away and got very good reviews – it would have made failure for me much worse. We’re not in competition at all but it just would have been embarrassing if my wife could write a bestseller and I couldn’t and we both run the Book Club.
JK Rowling recently released a novel under a pseudonym but, despite good reviews, her sales were pretty underwhelming – does that stand as a good example of why it's so hard for debut writers to break into the industry?
Judy: Yes, it is. You go into a bookshop and you’re faced with thousands and thousands of titles and you don’t know anything about them. If you’d known it was JK Rowling, you’d have gone straight to it but because it wasn’t, it was under the name of Robert Galbraith, you would have thought, “I’m not sure, I’ve never read him. Who is he, anyway?”
Richard: It’s a complete lottery. It’s totally arbitrary and if you look at some of our bestselling writers today, almost all of them have been rejected. Look at JK – again and again and again. And having a name doesn’t necessarily guarantee it working either. A few people have said, because you’re associated with the Book Club and people know you off the telly, that guarantees you success but it doesn’t. There are an awful lot of well-known people who turn their hand to writing and it flops. It’s not quite a lottery but it’s very unpredictable. And for every published successful author, they will tell you about their days of rejection, sometimes with the very book that made them a star.
You spend a lot of your time tending to the Book Club nowadays – do you ever miss the buzz of live television?
Richard: Not in the slightest.
Judy: I was more than ready to stop – I’d been ready to stop for a good while. I loved it, had a great time, wonderful career, very much enjoyed meeting and interviewing so many interesting people and it was good fun but there are times when you desperately need to change gear.
Richard: The analogy I’ve always used is you can be very comfortably in bed asleep and everything’s fine but at some point you absolutely have to turn over. I don’t know why but you do – your whole body is saying “turn over” and you turn over and that’s better. And we’d both reached that point – we’d done daily telly for 21 years. I didn’t want to leave television or broadcasting completely but I was tired of saying no to things because of the daily commitment of This Morning or the Richard and Judy show. Since I left I did a Who Do You Think You Are? I could never have done that when I was doing Channel 4 unless it was in holiday time and there was precious little of that. So that was three weeks filming in America – I had a great time and I did a documentary for ITV last year about squatting which was fun. I’m in talks to do some more of those.
Do you ever watch the daily formats now and get a little bit jealous?
Richard: No, honestly – we’re not being defensive about this. We did it – been there, done that, t-shirt, all of that clichéd stuff and we were ready for other stuff. Judy was really hungry to write, as was I, but I wanted to play a bit. I’ve got my Radio 2 shows on Sundays that I do for a few months of the year and I did want to go back to filming and do some documentary making and we’ve got the Book Club to run. Whereas Judy’s more of a fulltime writer than I am, I’ve got a smorgasbord of fun stuff to do – things that I enjoy saying yes to which daily television wouldn’t allow.
[Judy] once said, “If we have to ask a soap star one more question…” We’d done it all and almost everybody that I see being interviewed still – and we stopped four years ago – we’ve done. It was time for a change. We know Billy Wyman, the Rolling Stone who used to be the bass player and left years ago, and I asked him exactly the same question when we got to know him: “Don’t you miss it, Bill?” He said, “No. I woke up the morning after I told Mick I was going and it was my final decision and I felt like a pigeon in the f**king loft. I was back home and I didn’t want to fly anymore.” You can’t go on forever – you shouldn’t. While there’s still time, you should do different stuff, challenge yourself – and writing these novels was a challenge and a risk and you’ve got to take new risks.
The Search for a Bestseller competition is open now and ends on 1 January 2014. For full terms and conditions visit www.richardandjudy.co.uk/beabestseller