September 18, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT

THIS CONTEST ROCKS
Want your MTV Books deal? Better keep it snappy. The channel’s 1996 first-novel contest drew a not-so-mountainous 400-plus submissions, but winnowing them over a period of a year to the eventual winner — the just-out Floating, by 24-year-old Robin Troy — proved a tad overwhelming for the imprint’s top brass. ”We had a lot of our interns and editorial assistants and publicity assistants read through them,” admits Pocket VP Kara Welsh. Twenty finalists’ work then went to a panel composed of on-air presence Serena Altschul, R.E.M. member Mike Mills, and an assortment of young writers, including new Rob Weisbach acquisition Dale Peck. ”We never met as a group. We had no contact with anybody. It was, appropriately for MTV, quite informal,” reports one of the judges. Floating joins a roster that includes Beavis and Butt-head’s best-seller This Book Sucks and a forthcoming opus entitled The F— up. Next up: a presumably less taxing short-story competition.

A SOLDIER’S STORY
Maybe Cold Mountain’s success has something to do with it: The hottest book proposal in New York now is the mammoth recently discovered memoir of a Union soldier named Robert K. Sneden, together with about 800 of his paintings. ”This is really a stirring firsthand story of one soldier’s experience,” says Nelson Lankford of the Virginia Historical Society. At least a half-dozen publishers are interested in the project, which will be auctioned by agent Julian Bach, but questions persist as to how to package the vast material — the memoir is more than 5,000 pages. ”It presents a great publishing problem,” says one editor.

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