Rules and Overview

Dear Novelists,

Welcome to the 2018 Inkshares Mystery & Thriller Contest. We’re prefacing it with “2018,” but it is also the inaugural Inkshares Mystery & Thriller Contest.

In our first three years, we’ve focused predominantly in speculative fiction, chiefly science-fiction, fantasy, and horror. Books published in those genres have gone on to garner starred reviews in every publishing magazine, features in major book reviews including USA Today, and awards from organizations including the American Library Association. Those books have been licensed in foreign territories alongside top-of-market advances and are in development for television and film at top networks and studios.

And while this is our first mystery-and-thriller contest, it is not our first mystery or thriller release. This summer, we released Christopher Huang’s A Gentleman’s Murder, which earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly, was featured in the Washington Post, and is in development for television.

In creating this contest we initially debated what we were seeking: detective stories in the lineage of Christie or Sayers? Spy fiction in the legacy of Robert Ludlum or John le Carré? Indeed, debate ensued about the taxonomy and genealogy of this diverse area of commercial fiction. Is the detective story a subset of the mystery genre or of crime fiction? Is a courtroom drama a subset of crime fiction or of thrillers? Egads.

We settled on the nomenclature of “mystery and thriller” because we thought these two words—independently and collectively—encapsulate what we are looking for. The mystery, in all its forms, concerns itself with the resolution of crime or other disruption (such as a disappearance). The arresting setting, the empathizable or memorable victim, the indelible crime, the tantalizing array of suspects—they all service a need for catharsis. Finding the facts—the truth—allows us to see justice done, to restore the status quo, or at least to realize some form of closure.

The thriller is broader, because it is defined less by the inherent nature of its subject matter and more by the feelings it is calculated to elicit: suspense, excitement, anxiety, surprise, anticipation. It thus extends from espionage and military settings that could otherwise be called “action or adventure” to psychological or legal thrillers that might simultaneously exist under the banner “mystery.”

This is a circuitous way of saying that we’re looking to select novels that satisfy one or both of these categories. The mystery may take place in 1920s London, modern-day Missouri, or on a future Martian colony. What matters is that we need—desperately—to know what happened. The thriller could follow attorneys, spies, physicians, politicians, or absolute nobodies. It could take place entirely in a small town, or across metropolises on five continents and reaching the highest corridors of power.

As genres, mysteries and thrillers command some of the largest names in fiction. But none of them—not John Grisham, not Gillian Flynn—were anyone until they saw their first novel published. So prospective mystery author, prospective thriller author—or both—we’re thrilled to have you participate and can’t wait to find out who we will be publishing and representing.

—The Inkshares Team


This contest was originally set to run through November 22nd. After conferring with the many organizations helping to get the word out—including the Crime Writers of Canada and Crime Writers Association—we are extending the date to December 14, the same date on which the current horror contest ends. This will give our partners as much time to get the word out to their writer audiences as possible.


What is the purpose of this contest?

To publish and represent at least three novelists in the mystery-thriller space. We’re modeling this contest after one we did in collaboration with the Horror Writers Association of America last October, which bubbled up some incredible debut authors that we are currently in the midst of publishing.

How do I enter the contest?

Any writer with a manuscript (partial or finished) that falls under the mystery or thriller genre can enter the contest by first creating a draft project on Inkshares, which includes your pitch, logline, working title, and genre. If you aren’t familiar with any of these requested elements, the website will walk you through the process. Once you click the “Submit Your Story” button, it will be live, searchable, and shareable on From that point, you can easily upload chapters for potential readers, as well as craft an “About” page where you can introduce yourself and your project. When you’re ready, you can hit the “Start Selling Pre-Orders” button at the top right of your project page, which will automatically enter you into the contest—just make sure that you’ve selected “mystery” or “thriller” as the genre of your project. You can begin interacting with the community and building a following on Inkshares.

If you would like to enter a project that already exists on the site, you can do so by going to your project page, clicking Edit Page in the top right corner, then using the drop-down menu under the description to choose 2018 Horror Contest.

The contest officially starts on September 21, 2018, and only projects that begin selling pre-orders on or after that date within the mystery and thriller genres will be eligible for the contest.

How are the winners of the contest determined?

Projects will be selected on both the basis of unique pre-orders and by independent evaluation by Inkshares. The contest will come to a close at 12 p.m. PST on December 14, 2018. At that time, the top three projects as determined by the highest unique reader pre-order counts (as long as they have a minimum of 250 unique readers) will remain on the contest leaderboard in first, second, and third place. Inkshares will evaluate all submissions for publishing and representation, even if they haven’t sold any pre-orders. Inkshares will announce the additional winners by December 1, 2018.

Each selection will receive the same editorial, production, distribution, and marketing support as any Inkshares project, including distribution into independent bookstores as well as Amazon, Apple, and Barnes & Noble. Each project will also receive representation in foreign rights as well as film and television.

What is a unique reader?

A unique reader is any individual who pre-orders at least one copy of your book on during the contest. This differs from the total pre-order count, which is determined by the total number of pre-orders across all individuals who pre-order your book.

What’s the best way to increase my unique reader count?

We have a crowdfunding guide that may help. Your friends, family, and the broader mystery/thriller reader and writer community can be instrumental in helping you reach success by engaging with and referring your work. Lastly, check out advice from previous contest winners or ask the broader Inkshares community on our forum.

What will you do in case of a tie in unique readers?

If two winning projects have the same number of unique readers, we will break the tie by selecting the project with the highest pre-order count.

What happens to the pre-orders if I don't win the contest or hit my pre-order goal?

For a book project that doesn’t win the contest, but the campaign still has time allotted to it, pre-orders will carry through until the end of the campaign, so you will still have a chance to earn a publishing deal. If a campaign ends and the book hasn’t reached a pre-order goal, backers are immediately refunded. Anyone who pre-ordered will also remain a follower of your project, allowing you to continue updating them on the progress of your book even after your funding period is over.

What if I’ve already published elsewhere but I want to participate?

If your book has been published elsewhere and you don’t retain the rights required to be granted under our Publishing Terms, you are not eligible for the contest.

What if my book isn’t finished?

While we’ve found that more content helps a book receive more attention, the book doesn’t have to be complete for you to participate. You simply need to build your project page and upload a chapter or a few to get started.

What if I see a book in the contest that is not a mystery or thriller?

The intent of our platform is to democratize the process by which books get traditionally published. We trust our community to back the mystery/thriller books they want published. If a title appears to be abusing the democratic spirit of this contest or may raise legal and copyright questions, don’t hesitate to let us know by emailing

Should I have my friends and family use multiple accounts, place multiple orders, or trade pre-orders?

No. As detailed in our Terms of Service: “The purpose of Inkshares is to highlight broad reader interest in specific works. Accordingly, please do not ‘game’ the system. As an author, don’t pre-order your own book or encourage others to order copies of your book through multiple accounts. As a reader or purchaser, don’t create multiple accounts so as to order more copies of any title. Do not engage in any scheme or exchange of promises that would lead to the ordering of a book in a manner not reflective of genuine interest in the writing.”

We understand that these campaigns can be stressful and everyone wants to do their part to help. In order for Inkshares to stay true to its mission of publishing stories that readers truly want, the best way to help is to get out there and tell readers why a book is worth supporting.

I’ve participated in previous contests, either as an author or reader. I’d like to know: how can I help with this one?

We’re delighted you asked! First, there’s a wonderful forum on Inkshares that offers a place to collaborate. The best thing you can do, though, is to explore new projects throughout the length of the contest, offer feedback and reviews on projects that catch your eye, and pre-order and refer the books you love. While many authors won’t hit their goal, there’s still tremendous value in building up a readership and community on Inkshares. You can be an integral part of that.

Can I submit a book project with multiple authors to the contest?

While we love collaboration between authors, books with more than two authors are not eligible for submission. If you have questions about whether your project is eligible, please email