Watson, Little Prize: Upmarket Fiction – James Wills

This is part of a series launching the Watson, Little Prize. The prize is international, genre-specific, and in this inaugural edition of the prize – in celebration of the agency’s 50th year – it is dedicated to writers over 50 years of age. It aims to encourage those from older generations, from all backgrounds and from all nations and cultures, to apply. The 2021 prize will focus on upmarket fiction, and we look forward to seeing entries in this genre.

Want to know how to submit? Click here.

In each part of this series, a member of Watson, Little staff will offer favourite examples of upmarket fiction. Today, we look at Managing Director James Wills‘ picks.


As I was thinking about all the books I could mention, I started reading this mesmerising novel, THE VANISHING HALF by Brit Bennett, and I knew immediately I had to include it here. It gripped and moved me in equal measure and is a perfect example of a literary work with a strong hook that is both powerful and a page-turner. I didn’t want the book to end and I wanted to savour every moment but I also couldn’t stop reading compulsively. Which is just what I want from any submission that I receive.

THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE is also just the sort of book I’d love to find in my inbox. A high-concept love story that packs an emotional punch, and is as satisfying in its original approach to time travel as it is its deeply moving romantic story. It is written with a heightened emotion that might feel melodramatic elsewhere but is balanced here by the truly sensational hook. I’ve not seen the film, but I already know the book is better.

I clearly love a book with a hook that delivers on its promise. I am also a huge fan of crime and thrillers and I thoroughly recommend one of my own client’s titles, EIGHT DETECTIVES by Alex Pavesi, as a fiendishly clever debut that will delight literary reading groups as well as die-hard crime fans. Some books defy description as literary or mainstream and are, like EIGHT DETECTIVES, simply brilliant. Which is why I’ve chosen it as my upmarket crime example because, ultimately, I don’t think you need to worry too much about the exact definition of what is or what is not upmarket. Please just send us your most brilliant stories.