Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Minotaur and Me; a guest blog by Susan Cox

JULIA: Along with being the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, this time of year marks another important milestone for thousands of writers: the last days of NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month.  So let's say you're finishing your manuscript this coming Monday. What then? Don't panic - it's not hopeless. Here's Susan Cox to tell us about how she got a contract for THE MAN ON THE WASHING MACHINE.

We all stand at the entrance to a labyrinth trying to get published. Writing may be difficult (okay, it is difficult), but it pales when compared to the dead ends, the wrong turns, the retracing of steps taken earlier, the lost sense of direction and general feelings of discouragement that follow.

But there are occasional shortcuts for a very lucky few. Probably the best for those of us in the mystery field is the annual First Crime Novel contest co-sponsored by the Mystery Writers of America and Minotaur Books, the mystery imprint of St. Martin’s Press.

Hundreds of unpublished crime novel manuscripts of every mystery sub-genre are submitted in December. MWA judges read, evaluate and choose the finalists, which are sent on to the editorial staff at Minotaur Books for the final decision, which is announced in March. The winner is presented with the Holy Grail (a publishing contract) and a nice advance.

And yes, I won it last year. (Yay me!)

The year before I’d had a moment of “If not now, when?” And after some careful budgeting and even more careful finger crossing, I gave up my career to write full time. I’d tried to do both over the years and couldn’t make it work (kudos and respect to the many who can), so I spent the next year worrying just a little that I couldn’t make this work either.

I wrote three books that year. I also took another look at one of my earlier novels—a San Francisco murder mystery I felt had real potential—tore it apart and re-wrote it. I’d lived in San Francisco for more than twenty years by then and I enjoyed writing about the coffee shops and small specialty shops I knew, and creating an imaginary neighborhood for my characters to inhabit.

When I’d polished it to gleaming, I sent it off to the MWA contest and crossed my fingers. One of the difficulties about writing novels is that it takes a long time to write 80,000 good words. Mostly you’re on your own, providing your own motivation to keep going, and you’ve no idea if what you’ve written is marketable or even any good. While you may have a novel at the end of several months’ work, you suspect your writing group partners may be bored with it, no agent has decided to represent it (I had a couple turn me down), which means that no publisher has seen it, which means that the novel may be the greatest book ever written or it could be complete dreck.

And then came that phone call.

Afterwards, agents returned my calls and I chose one to help guide my future career.

Next came edits and polishing and all the things that go into getting a book ready for traditional publication, and I’ll be holding it in my hand on December 15th.

So it all worked out in a big way, but the important take-away here is that I had no expectation of winning. None. I entered as a way of keeping my spirits up on the fairly lonely (and slightly nerve-wracking) journey I was taking. The time between submitting it in December and hearing the result in March was the literary equivalent of Schrodinger’s Cat; I hadn’t won the contest, but I hadn’t lost it, either, which was encouragement enough for me to keep writing.

Sometimes it feels as if everything and everyone is conspiring to keep you from getting published. There are too many writers in the world and too much competition; there are only so many writing courses and seminars you can take before your brain explodes; agents don’t respond; publishers are only in it for the money and your work isn’t commercial; no one understands how hard it is.

But other writers have been there, too, and they do understand.
A contest like this requires untold hundreds of volunteer hours from other writers who have nothing to gain from the experience. I’ve never felt more grateful or supported. 
So tell me—What do you do to hold onto your writing mojo and keep your motivation shiny and bright?

Former party girl and society photographer Theophania Bogart flees from London to San Francisco to escape a high-profile family tragedy. But sudden death shines a light on her hiding place and she learns she’s been providing cover for a sophisticated smuggling operation. Her apartment is burgled, she starts to fall for an untrustworthy stranger, and she’s knocked out, tied up and imprisoned. The police are sure she’s lying. The smugglers are sure she knows too much. Her friends? They aren’t sure what to believe.

Theo needs to find a killer before her new life is exposed as an elaborate fraud. But the more deeply entangled she becomes, the more her investigation is complicated by her best friend, who is one of her prime suspects; her young protégé, who may or may not have a juvie record; her stern and unyielding grandfather, who exposes an unexpected soft center; and THE MAN ON THE WASHING MACHINE, who isn’t quite what he appears, either.
You can find out more about THE MAN ON THE WASHING MACHINE at Susan's website. You can friend Susan on Facebook, talk books with her on Goodreads, and follow her on Twitter as @cox_suecox.


Joan Emerson said...

Congratulations, Susan . . . I don't know that I can think of any better motivation for writing than having your book win the contest! That has to be so exciting!
I'm looking forward to reading your book to see how Theo makes out . . . .

Edith Maxwell said...

Congrats, Susan! The book sounds fabulous, to me especially as I'm a Californian transplanted to Massachusetts. Before I had writing contracts (which now do a lot to keep me going), I just kept telling myself, "Well, somebody's going to be published. It might as well be me." Over and over again.

Marianne in Maine said...

Congratulations, Susan. It must have been tremendously exciting to win.

The book sounds wonderful. I can't wait to read it.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

SO wonderful! Nothing like a good success story. AndI love your reference..I think that all the time--until it's not, anything is possible!

Hurray--and hurray to all the NaNoWriMos!

Hallie Ephron said...

Love your story, and your book's title is fantastic. It's so hard to stand out in this field and you managed it! Congratulations!

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

Congratulations Susan--what an inspiring story! And the cover is gorgeous. It's hard to remember those days (and all of us had them) before we weren't under contract, in fact had not a soul interested in our work.

Did you have other writers to check in with? or family or friends? I'm always curious about what keeps a new writer going when the path is so fraught with discouragement.

(Love Edith's line too--someone's going to be published, it might as well be me!)

Deborah Crombie said...

Congratulations, Susan! Just think how many contestants there were, and YOUR book was chosen! Great title, great cover, and I love the premise. Hallie's right--it's hard to stand out these days but you managed. And congrats on your determination and perseverance, too. I'll be looking for the book in a couple of weeks!

Deb Romano said...


Congratulations! Your book sounds like something I will enjoy, and I look forward to reading it.

Kait said...

Congratulations, Susan, and all the best with the book!

Susan Elia MacNeal said...

Hearty congratulations, Susan! Can't wait to read your book — and what a thrilling story!

Hey, I'm a working novelist married to a working puppeteer -- anything is possible! But on a more serious note, I definitely use the chip on my shoulder (usually hidden under a lovely sweater). Seriously, so many people told me: don't be a writer, you can't be a writer, your writing is terrible, yes but what are you REALLY going to do with your life, people like us don't get to do things like that, you're throwing your life away... If I ever feel short of inspiration, I think of how delicious it feels to prove all the naysayers wrong...

Sue Cox said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sue Cox said...

I'm really sorry, guys--I can't figure out how to respond to your comments individually. I'm not usually quite this technologically challenged, but I wanted you all to know how much I appreciate your responses to my blog post. I received my very first copy of The Man on the Washing Machine as an actual book just yesterday. And yes, it feels fabulous!

Kathy Reel said...

Susan, congratulations on a great win, a life-changing win! I love hearing the different ways that authors come to the publishing world, and how fantastic that your book rose to the top of all the entries and won. So exciting! I would have gravitated toward your book for the title alone, and, apparently, it lives up to the title. Great cover, too. I'm looking forward to checking out this intriguing story in December.

Sue Cox said...

There's a story to go with the title:

I was floundering around, the way you do, trying on this title and that and not really loving any of them. Then I was asked for the umpteenth time by well-meaning friends of friends "So what's it about?" And I snapped like a worn elastic band. I mean it's a murder mystery; what do they think it's about??

So I said (with, admittedly, more than a little sarcasm): "It's about a man on a washing machine,"

"Wow," he said. "Great title."

Rhys Bowen said...

Congratulations, Susan. Glad you're a fellow Minatour author now. And I love your title

FChurch said...

Congratulations on your win--and the thrill of holding that first real copy in your hands! Always happy to find new authors to try--love the cover and the title alone would've made me check it out in a bookstore. Apparently I have an affinity for writers and washing machines--when my youngest nephew wanted a story once upon a time, he had two requests: the characters were jellybeans and their adventure involved a washing machine!

Sue Cox said...

I enjoyed reading all your comments so much. Thanks for taking the time to leave them here and thanks for your good wishes. I hope you'll let me know what you think of The Man on the Washing Machine. You can leave a note on my website,, or on my Facebook page (I'm giving you that link because otherwise you might be wading for too long in the pool of potential Susan Coxs.)