A new literary award with a prize pot of $100,000 (Â£82,000) puts the Baillie Giffordâ€™s Â£30,000 and the Man Bookerâ€™s Â£50,000 in the shade. But the entry that takes the inaugural Nine Dots prize will differ from the seasonâ€™s other prizewinning books in one crucial respect: it wonâ€™t exist.
Drawing its name from a puzzle that can be solved only by lateral thinking, the Nine Dots prize is asking for responses to the question: â€œAre digital technologies making politics impossible?â€ Established writers and debut authors are invited to send 3,000-word answers, along with an outline showing how they would develop their argument into a short book. The award, judged anonymously by a 12-strong panel of academics, authors and journalists, also includes a book deal with Cambridge University Press.
The prize is funded by the Kadas Prize foundation, a charity that promotes research into â€œsignificant but neglected questions relevant to todayâ€™s worldâ€. Organisers hope it will â€œencourage innovative thinkingâ€.
The chair of the judging board, Prof Simon Goldhill, called it â€œan incredibly exciting and unique opportunity for thinkers to table big ideas that have the potential to change the worldâ€.
â€œThe board,â€ he said, â€œwill be looking for entries that display originality in everything from the ideas put forward to the ways in which those ideas are communicated. Respondents are entirely free to critique, agree or disagree with, or reject the premise of the question, but they must engage with it fully and insightfully.â€
A new question is due to be set every two years. The deadline for entries for the inaugural prize is 31 January 2017, and the result will be announced in May. The winner will work with Cambridge University Press to produce a book of between 25,000 and 40,000 words.
Diane Coyle, a professor of economics at Manchester University who is also on the panel, said the judges hoped the prize would â€œencourage original and inspiring thinking from diverse individuals coming from a wide variety of places and backgrounds and suggesting innovative new approachesâ€. Fellow judge David Runciman, a professor of politics at the University of Cambridge, said: â€œWe donâ€™t know how many entries we will get, but we hope the money will get peopleâ€™s attention. Many writers in different fields may not think of themselves as book writers, but may have a strong argument they want to lay out. So give us the idea, and, if we like it, an expert publisher will guide them into the process of making it into a book.â€
Runciman said the board had wanted to set a provocative question, â€œsomething people immediately recognise as an important question for now, leaving open the possibility of answering in different ways â€¦ We hope to have a real range. We donâ€™t specify anything about the style or the approach â€“ writers could look at it from a cultural or artistic perspective, or historical, or futuristic. We wanted a question which left it open.â€