The manuscripts for the James River Writers/Richmond magazine Best Unpublished Novel Contest go through a few rounds of judging. Beginning first with a gathering of selected readers, each 50-page submission is read three times and rated on a scale that evaluates such elements as plot, character development, conflict and overall writing mechanics. From there, the nine highest scoring manuscripts are sent to three judges who read three entries in their entirety, choosing one manuscript each to send to award judge Susann Cokal, who chooses the winner from among the three finalists.
Mid-level judges for this year's award:
Paula Squires is managing editor for Virginia Business, a statewide business news magazine. Before joining the staff in 2000, she reported for the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk and the Richmond-Times Dispatch. During her career, Squires has covered everything from politics to business and consumer affairs. Along the way, her stories have won awards from the Virginia Press Association, the National Association of Press Women and The Alliance of Area Business Publications, an organization representing more than 70 regional business publications across the country. Squires also has taught news writing as an adjunct professor at the University of Richmond and Virginia Commonwealth University and is a board member of James River Writers.
Thom Didato is the coordinator for graduate studies in the English department of Virginia Commonwealth University as well as one of the founding editors of the online literary journal, faibetter.com.
Gigi Amateau is the author of the young adult novel, A Certain Strain of Peculiar, and the 2008 middle-grade novel, Chancey of the Maury River, in addition to being a board member of James River Writers. Her debut young adult novel, Claiming Georgia Tate, was selected as a Book Sense Children's Pick, a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age, and a VOYA Review Editor's Choice. She also contributed to the acclaimed 2008 anthology, Our White House: Looking In Looking Out.
Susann Cokal, board member of James River Writers and author of two critically acclaimed novels, Mirabilis and Breath and Bones, in addition to numerous short stories. Susann also is a frequent reviewer for the New York Times Book Review. She teaches fiction and contemporary literature at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Patty Smith of James River Writers coordinated the judging of the Third Annual Best Unpublished Novel Contest.