By Thonie Hevron
Entering contests are a no-brainer for me. I can directly attribute my entry into the realm of traditional publishing (albeit a small press) to winning a contest. I’ll bet many authors could say the same.
In 2012, I entered my unpublished manuscript, working title Probable Cause, in the Public Safety Writers Contest (PSWA). I won third place in my category-unpublished novel. Now re-named, By Force or Fear, I soon self-published it on Smashwords as an eBook, in the hopes of getting enough money together to do a print version. Meanwhile, I worked on mapping out the second book of the Nick and Meredith Mysteries (I’m a compulsive plotter).
After months of writing, querying, submitting and all-around frustration, I entered my novel, in a contest at Oak Tree Publishing (OTP). Oak Tree had recently published an anthology for the PSWA, so I thought it would be worth a chance. I was stunned when I won. First prize was publication of the winning book. I’d entered my second Nick and Meredith Mystery, Intent to Hold. It had just won second place in unpublished novel category the PSWA’s 2014 Writers’ Contest. After a polishing up, my new publisher agreed to publish the first novel, now renamed By Force or Fear.
As events progressed, both novels with Oak Tree Press went to press with the third, With Malice Aforethought, in contract. Sadly, Oak Tree’s production has fallen into limbo with the ongoing health issues of its publisher, Billie Johnson. Johnson offered many OTP authors their rights, so I took mine. The short version of this story is I now have another publisher, Aakenbaaken & Kent, with whom I’m very pleased. I’m currently working on another Nick and Meredith Mystery, working title, Felon with a Firearm. I’m hustling to get it finished for the next PSWA writing contest that opens in May.
I’m also looking into other places to submit my work for competition. In 2015, the East Texas Writers Guild awarded Malice third place in “Best First Chapter” category. There are many more contests in which to submit your work. Start with a Google search: I use “mystery contests.” It helps to search within your genre.
Contests count. They give the author credibility. Winning a contest means someone other than your mother likes your work. Agents and publishers look at winners differently. It’s a terrific marketing tactic to use, “Winner of the Agatha Award” on the book cover. But for me, it’s a wonderful confidence booster to win a writing contest. Winning motivates me to work harder for the next entry. It also helps me to set goals. Having a first draft by May 1st, the usual deadline for PSWA’s contest, is a typical goal. I’ll make Felon the fourth try to come in better than Malice’s second place in 2016.
This month, Romance author Donna Schlachter will weigh in on Do’s and Don’ts in Contests. J.L. Greger, author of several science-based mysteries asks, “Do You Feel Lucky?” February will end with thoughts from a prolific children’s author, Natasha Yim, the chair of the Redwood Writers Club (California Writers Club branch in Sonoma County) Contests. Posts are up every Friday at 6 A.M. on Just the Facts, Ma’am, Writer’s Notes.
Think about entering a contest. You can’t lose anything more than a few bucks–some are even free. A contest might jump-start flagging progress on your WIP, you could set and meet realistic goals, or even better yet, you could win!
Great on-the-mark post! I like entering contests because for me (besides a professional editor Mike Foley I send my books to) they are a measuring-stick as to whether my work is getting better or not. I want a reader to ENJOY what I write and the better I can get at honing my craft the happier my little writing-heart is. (There’s probably some ego in there, too) But I really do consider contests good impartial feedback on where I stand writing wise.
An excellent point, Maddie. You’re right!
You are so right. I’ve won 8 awards for 11 books. Not a bad average, and it often makes someone who doesn’t know your work take a chance on you.
Yep. The trick is finding the right contest to suit your work. Sounds like you have that dialed in. Do you submit or does your publisher?
Great post, Thonie. I wrote “Footprints in the Frost” years ago and tossed it aside. Found it one day, read it again, rewrote and entered it in the PSWA writing competition just to test the waters. If it did nothing there, it was going back on the shelf and forgotten again. It won first place in the unpublished fiction book category. I had it published by Oak Tree Press and the rest is history. Caleb Pirtle III chose it in his Five Best Mysteries I Read in 2017. Contests are important.
Thanks, Jackie! Footprints is on my TBR list.
Thank you for your blog. I always learn something.-Lynn
Thanks for your kind words, Lynn.