John Murray celebrates 250 years with non-fiction prize

John Murray celebrates 250 years with non-fiction prize

John Murray is launching an international non-fiction prize worth £20,000 to mark its 250th anniversary this year. At the same time, publisher Mark Richards has been given new responsibilities to lead the imprint.

The non-fiction prize is being run in association with the Spectator magazine and is open to unpublished authors tasked with writing an essay of up to 4,000 words on the theme of ‘Origin’. They are also asked to provide a separate outline of how the essay could become a book.

The winner will scoop a £20,000 publishing contract with John Murray and have their essay published both in the Spectator and in a special anthology that will appear on John Murray’s JM Originals list. Runners-up will see their essays published in the same anthology and win a selection of books from John Murray.

The judges will be looking for original non-fiction writing “that works not only as an essay but that could turn into a larger project”. Entries can explore a beginning or a discovery of any kind, an idea, a movement or a species and entrants are encouraged to write about their passion, discipline or background in whatever forms they choose whether history, science, politics, literature, nature, travel or memoir.

Chaired by Georgina Laycock, publisher for non-fiction at John Murray, the judging panel is comprised of a number of the publisher’s authors: Andrea Wulf, author of The Invention of Nature, Sumit Paul-Choudhury, editor-in-chief of New Scientist, Amanda Vickery, broadcaster professor of History at Queen Mary, University of London and TLS editor, Stig Abell. They will be joined by Sam Leith, literary editor of the Spectator.

In addition to the prize, the imprint will celebrate its 250th anniversary with a new book called Dear Mr Murray: Letters to a Gentleman Publisher, billed as “a sparkling anthology of letters written by John Murray authors to their publisher”. They include William Makepeace Thackeray apologising for his drunken behaviour, Jane Austen voicing concern about printing delays, Adrian Conan Doyle challenging Harold Nicolson to a duel for insulting his father in the press and Charles Darwin considering the negative reviews of On the Origin of Species. The anthology has been compiled and edited by David McClay, the inaugural Manuscripts Curator of the John Murray Archive at the National Library of Scotland. Dear Mr Murray will be published in hardback on 4th October 2018.

The firm has also announced that publisher Richards will lead the John Murray imprint from January 2018 after joining from Fourth Estate in 2013 as John Murray’s editorial director and becoming its publisher in 2016. In the last two years his authors have won the Costa First Novel Award, the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, the Desmond Elliott Prize, the Edge Hill Short Story Prize, the CWA Gold Dagger, Book of the Year at the British Book Awards and been shortlisted for many other prizes.

Nick Davies, m.d. of John Murray Press, praised Richards’ “astute” editorial skills. He said: ‘It has been an enormous pleasure to watch Mark and the team around him transform the John Murray list over the last four years. Mark is an extraordinary talent spotter, an astute editor and a creative and inspiring colleague to work alongside. I look forward to seeing how Mark, Georgina [Laycock], Joe [Zigmond] and the wider John Murray team continue to reinvent the imprint in the years ahead.”

Laycock said that the newly launched non-fiction prize “feels an entirely appropriate celebration of our rich literary heritage to offer this unique opportunity to a new author”.

She said: “We love non-fiction writing of all kinds at John Murray and we want this prize to inspire today’s writers to come up with something original and interesting. Our expert panel of judges, all leaders in their field, and I are hugely looking forward to reading the entries. John Murray has long represented innovation and distinction and we’re looking forward to discovering the fresh voices that reflect that.”

The submission window will open on Thursday (4th January) and close at midnight on 1st May. The winner will be announced in October, at a prize ceremony that will be held around the actual anniversary of John Murray on 20th October. 

This year will also see fellow Hachette UK division Hodder & Stoughton mark its 150th birthday. John Murray was founded in 1768 and was acquired by Hodder & Stoughton in 2002.

For more information on the prize visit