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The first sentence is always the hardest.

That is what my tutors used to tell me during my creative writing masters. We would sit in a semi-airless room, converted from an Irish Georgian townhouse and berate the blank page for our failures.

Just start to write and see what happens. The blank page is only ever blank, until you fill it.

It was fairly simple advice and yet it seemed impossible to follow. So it is not without a certain level of ironic amusement that I find myself trotting out the same adage to my authors when they call, their self-confidence shaken during the middle of a truly difficult edit/revise.

Much has changed in our industry since I first learned this simple truth. Now new avenues have unfurled themselves like spring, for authors to take advantage of. And as with anything new, I confess I have been untrusting of these sudden changes, watching from the side-lines as we learn of what fissures into the landscape, digital, e-books and self-publishing begins to make.

But that in itself is wrong, because self-publishing is not new. Think back to the times when those Irish Georgian townhouses were made. Then authors could and sometimes did print their own work, embossing them in red stiff leather. Readers had no sense of snobbishness about this – a book was a book; its source a matter of disinterest. It was only the content that mattered.

So is it any wonder then, when so much of the modern age is a nostalgia for the past, that this ‘new avenue’ is really a hearkening back to an old one? I was sceptical of self-publishing I admit. I saw it as a defiance of an industry, but that was merely cynicism of the new. Now I see that those who choose to self-publish are not all grimly shaking a fist at the publishing towers in resistance, but actually a parallel – choosing their own path and destiny much like their 18thcentury counterparts before them.

And so I have shifted my opinion, becoming more open to these new voices clamouring to be read regardless of where they originate. And it’s why more than ever, the publishing industry has already begun to recognise them as part of our collective fabric, rather than an anomaly. But it is also now why prizes need to start opening their doors to those who choose to control their publishing path.

In opening the criteria to self-published authors for the first time, I believe The Sunday Times Young Writer’s Prize can do just that.  I am excited to find something new; excited to give someone that chance which they may not otherwise have. Because the first sentence is indeed the hardest – and if anyone can get past that, and make it to the end, then they, just like their traditionally published peers, deserve the same opportunities for recognition.

Nelle Andrew is an agent at PFD predominantly looking for exciting, original debut fiction. She has been at PFD since 2009 and before then Pan Macmillan and is a published novelist herself. Before then she studied at the University of Warwick and then Trinity College, Dublin.

Her list spans Sunday Times bestsellers in non-fiction and acclaimed debut novels. She represents a variety of authors across many genres but what they all have in common is an original story and a strong narrative voice.

This year she is especially looking for well written, crime/thriller and psychological suspense – books which have strong characters and page turning premises, as well as literary commercial fiction.

Above all she is drawn to unique storytelling and compelling prose regardless of the genre the novel is written for, and an author whose writing she can champion in what she hopes will be a long and productive career.

Young Writer Award @YoungWriterYear

Follow us on twitter. The Young Writer of the Year Award is a prize of £10,000 for a writer under 35.

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