More than a place--it's a writer's muse.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Word about Contests and Publishing

I know, I know. I was going to write about Dark YA today, but (considering the Textnovel/Dorchester "America's Next Best Celler" contest announced the top ten yesterday) I decided I'd go for "timely." Yeah. Who'dda thunk it?

I've developed a few opinions regarding contests recently (thanks in part to the 1st TN one that landed me a contract and a few other contests I've checked into).

First, let me make this perfectly clear: If you compete in a contest you are already a winner. Why? Because it takes guts to put your work out there to be judged. You're putting a part of yourself on display and hoping for good stuff. I understand that. And I know that for everyone of you who had the guts to compete in "Best Celler" there are tons more who didn't have the guts to get in the mix.

As I was watching the announcements and congratulations flitting by on Twitter, I was also pretty certain I was watching a few hearts breaking. Knowing you've made it to a certain level and then being told you can't proceed--well, it sucks. And I noticed a few folks saying things like "just because you aren't right for Dorchester..." and "your time will come."

I want you to understand two things:

1.) If you continue pressing forward, honing your writing skills, working on things like query letters and high concept pitches, etc., and if you are determined to persevere (without bitterness and ego) you WILL make it. Regardless of what naysayers proclaim, publishing is a VERY open field. Keep writing. Believe in yourself and your story.

2.) And no matter what anyone says, keep in mind that although you may not be what Dorchester wants RIGHT NOW, IN THIS CONTEST lists change. What they want now may not be what they want in spring or summer. There are some publishing houses (like my publisher St. Martin's Press) that don't really work to a preconceived "list." They want good stories. If you catch their attention they'll find a home for you.

3.) I said there'd be two--right? This is why I didn't go into math... Look at all the good you have already gotten from this experience: You met some other talented authors and probably built some relationships; you pushed yourself forward with your writing and learned a bit about marketing and engaging readers; you tested your own hunger for getting published by a NYC publisher. I daresay you've learned a lot about yourself through this contest.

So where do you go from here if you didn't make top 10?

1.) You complete your manuscript. Heck, try and do it to the same specs Dorchester has at the Textnovel Blog.
2.) Try doing your jacket copy (and see how the top 10's turn out--compare, contrast, learn a little more). That jacket copy can potentially be used in your query or synopsis, so it's not like the experience is wasted.
3.) Do some research. Who do you SERIOUSLY want to be published by? Maybe it's Dorchester. And maybe not. Make sure you're ready to exceed the expectations of the publishing house you really want (but don't get all "I'm so much better than this author, they HAVE to want me").
4.) Begin to build your platform and brand.
5.) Figure out if you need an agent or not. If you need one, get one. Be careful though. Some are good and some aren't (and there are all sorts of degrees in between).
6.) Do your query letter, your synopsis, your outline.
7.) Submit to your dream publishers first.
8.) Persevere.

You can do this!


Robin said...

You are on the nose with this one. Yeah, I think I saw some hearts breaking, too. We all worked so hard! Now, however, a lot of energy can be put back where it belongs--in writing the best manuscript we can.

Well, I am still planning to be a part of "The Divas paint the town red" Book signing tour!

Cece Writer said...

WORD!! I gotta say, I cut my teeth on contests and learned a lot about myself and my writing at the same time. Congrats to everyone who entered and the finalists!

Jennifer L Hart said...

Hey we can't win if we don't play, right?

And yeah, I've been playing Rob Thomas's This is How a Heart Breaks in my head for the past 20 hours. Silly me—I thought that getting enough votes to make it to the top 20 would be the hardest part. Thought my story would sell itself and then I would cock up the synopsis, like I always do when querying. Not on purpose, mind you, I just seriously suck at selling my work.

Had it all envisioned in my head. When reality didn't match the picture, I freaked. Just can't seem to get my foot in the feshlugana door.

I really don't envy the gamut they have you ladies in the top ten running through. Another round of cuts is beyond painful to imagine. Best of luck to all of you!

Shannon Delany said...

Robin and Cece Writer--There is a lot to be learned from contests and yet, as Robin points out, it's great to get back to what matters: WRITING.

Jennifer, I'm with you! I can't imagine the next few rounds of cuts Dorchester will be making (and the time between some of their decisions is sort of like putting someone on the rack, tightening it a notch and going for a smoke break before you torture them again).

If you're having trouble *selling* your work (developing the synopsis and query can be the most uncomfortable parts of the process) maybe we need to talk about high concept pitches and writing queries and synopses here...Hmm...

Finny said...

Great (and timely!) post! And seriously, the competition to even get into the Top 20 was fierce. For every step forward, we should be very proud.

Even if I don't advance from here, I did gain so much from the experience of this contest (and new friends too!). And truly, experience in this business is valuable as is learning, growing, and connecting with one another -- building one another up and sharing the wealth of knowledge. It's pretty incredible what we've managed to do so far.

My congratulations to everyone who did dare enter. It did take cajones. :)

Liane Gentry Skye said...

Just another reason you're one of my heroes. You've done so much to promote other authors, and I respect that so much. Your advice is spot on, too. I feel blessed to be where I am today, but I'm also well aware there's still a long road ahead.

And that's part of the fun of this journey. And knowing I've written what I feel is a publishable book as a result--that's the ultimate trophy. Because if it's not written, it can't be sold.

Shannon Delany said...

See, I popped back in this morning to see if there was anything I needed to answer in the comments and instead, I'm grinning and saying to myself: "THIS is why these girls are going to make it. They have the attitude it takes."

And I wanted you to know THAT (because we tend to have so much self-doubt so often--and the brutal side of publishing and contests doesn't help erase that).

I believe SO STRONGLY that life is what you make it. Your attitude is what will position you more firmly for success and, reading these comments only cements my belief you girls have the right attitude, regardless of what a contest says.

You all took a risk and you all know you learned some important stuff as a result. You may have had your heart broken--use that! Either write with that emotion burning in your chest--so all your readers experience it with your characters--or promise yourself to keep pushing forward, even hungrier for success because you know you were so close.

You all make me feel so freakishly good about the future of women's fiction (regardless of what HQN just pulled). :D

I'm proud of each of you--keep writing!

Saranna DeWylde said...

Your advice to everyone has been invaluable during this contest.

I think we've all learned a lot. I know I have. Not just about my drive and what I can produce, but also about networking and marketing and all of the other things that it takes to sell.

I also learned that by staying positive, we can influence the tone of those around us. Sounds simple, but in something that can be cutthroat and personal like a competition we were able to reach out to each other and form bonds that will last much longer than the contest.

I'm so proud of everyone!

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