Frequently Asked Questions

18 May 2022 | Hardie Grant Books

Thanks for your interest in the Spark Prize. This FAQ builds on the prize guidelines and terms and conditions as well as our other resources on narrative non-fiction and writing a book proposal. If you have additional questions, please feel free to get in touch by emailing 

What is narrative non-fiction?

Narrative non-fiction is a style of non-fiction writing that tells a story using the techniques of fiction. It can include (but is not limited to) memoir, hybrid memoir, biography, history, current affairs, popular science, journalism, creative non-fiction, cultural studies and humour. We would really encourage you to listen to RMIT's Bowen Street Media podcast episodes on narrative non-fiction including Understanding Narrative Non-Fiction, Ideas & Research, and How to Pitch Your Proposal.

What is not narrative non-fiction?

Cookbooks, fiction (including fictionalised accounts of real-life events), photographic books, picture books, children’s and young adult books, travel guides, how-to and DIY books, joke books, self-help, maps and atlases, encyclopedias, textbooks and academic books, material written for a specialised audience (e.g. medical books, university course materials, government policy documents), religious texts, poetry, gardening books, puzzle books, business books – as a non-exhaustive list.

Can a team of more than one person apply for the prize?

Unfortunately, this prize is only for individual writers.

My project isn’t finished – I’m still researching, writing or interviewing. Will I be penalised for submitting something early on in the writing process?

This is a developmental prize and the expectation is that you will still be working on the project. We want to support you to do research, work with an editor, and finish the project. It’s a good idea in the proposal to be up front about how far along you are.

How central is the idea of 'narrative arc' in narrative non-fiction?

Just because something is narrative doesn’t mean it has to be linear. You have lots of avenues open when you’re starting to tell your story. You can even look at fiction for techniques for writing narrative non-fiction. It’s all about finding the right shape, form, or voice for the idea you want to get across.

Does narrative non-fiction mean memoir?

Narrative non-fiction is not just memoir! While your personal experience does create a great starting point for narrative non-fiction, it is a wide and varied genre and there is no end to what you could write about. People often say to write what you know, but we’d also encourage you to write what you want to know.

How accurate does a memoir need to be?

There are so many ways to tell one's story. ‘Truth’ and ‘memory’ are complicated! Write from your own experience and be truthful in what you write. One way to approach this is to imagine how others may have experienced events, or to draw on historical or contextual information to fill in the gaps in your knowledge or memory. It’s also important to consider how other people in your life might feel about the information you’re sharing in a memoir.

What if I’m writing about sensitive or legally problematic events? 

If you're writing about traumatic experiences, it's good practice to mention it at the top of the proposal, so that any potential readers are prepared for the content. If what you’re writing about could have some sensitivities from a legal perspective, please make sure you explain this clearly in your proposal.

What is the preferred word count for a narrative non-fiction book?

When it comes to final word count, many non-fiction books sit in the ballpark of 70,000 words, but the word count goes up and down depending on the project. Remember, your entry for this prize doesn’t need to be finished. You only have to submit your proposal document.

Can you suggest an organisation that is a good support or source of information for Australian writers?

Your local state-based Writers Centre (e.g. Writers Victoria) is an excellent place to start. You could also consider connecting with your local library network or local writing groups in community message boards. For writers under 25, Express Media is a fantastic source of information, opportunities and support. For emerging writers of any age, the Emerging Writers Festival in June every year is a great way to learn more about the craft of writing.

What is your advice about pitching a non-fiction book to Hardie Grant outside of entering the prize?

Hardie Grant does accept general submissions, and we will be reopening up a general submissions portal through Submittable (the same platform we’re using for the prize) after the Spark Prize closes.