By Susan Cox
If you are a writer, you know that you face a labyrinth trying to get published. Writing 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.
It’s a long journey; you must first write the book, then find an agent who believes in your work, which if you are lucky will result in a sale to the right publisher, followed by the terrifying and possibly mortifying editing process and then, eventually, publication.
But there are occasional shortcuts, springboards, which help you, leap to the center of the labyrinth (or the Exit sign–depends which way you want to go). 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Hundreds of unpublished crime novels of every mystery sub-genre are submitted. MWA judges read, evaluate and choose the finalists, which are sent on to the editorial staff at Minotaur Books for the final decision.
And yes, I won it last year. (Yay me!)
I had given up a demanding career to write full time. I’d tried to do both and couldn’t make it work, so I spent the next few months writing a lot and worrying just a little that I couldn’t make this work either. I entered the contest as a way of keeping my spirits up and giving me something author-ish to do.
The win came with a St. Martin’s Minotaur publishing contract and a trip to New York to attend the MWA Edgar Awards Dinner. I was asked to keep the secret for nearly a month, until the announcement could be made at the Edgars Dinner. I tried. I really did. But within hours I had sworn all my family and friends to secrecy and before long I was blurting it out to waiters and people who telephoned to sell me vinyl siding. In the end, it didn’t seem to matter. I stepped on the stage to good-hearted applause from the hundreds of mystery writers, publishers, agents, editors and other guests present, and took possession of the most attractive chunk of acrylic I have ever seen.
Agents returned my calls and I chose one to help guide my future career.
After edits and polishing and all the things that go into getting a book ready for traditional publication, I will be able to hold it in my hand on December 15th.
The important take-away here is that I had absolutely no expectation of winning.
So go ahead.
Enter a writing contest.
You might win.
And who knows where that will lead you?