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Hundreds of unpublished crime novel manuscripts of every mystery sub-genre are submitted in December.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.