Bringing Back The Stiletto Contest

Dear Chapter Members,

One of the major items that had been discussed last year, when the board was getting ready to transition into the 2017 year, was bringing back the Stiletto Contest. A contest that had been well known among RWA members as one of the best among RWA chapters to enter. But how did we, as a new board, bring back a contest that had essentially been abandoned and make it great and a sought after

A contest that had been well known among RWA members as one of the best among RWA chapters to enter. But how did we, as a new board, bring back a contest that had essentially been abandoned and make it great and a sought after contest, again?  It begins with a list of to-do items.

1. Pulling together a great committee.

It’s not easy for chapters to get volunteers, especially online chapters like the Contemporary Romance Writers. But we put the call out and sure enough, we got a great group of members who not only gave great input but have stepped up to contribute to make this contest great again.

2. Improving the judge’s score sheet.

Luckily, writers and authors save everything. And I mean everything, right? We tend to not delete anything on our laptops. One of the committee members had saved the Stiletto Contest score sheet from the last year it had been held and the committee agreed that it needed an overhaul. Entrants enter contests for reasons. Maybe it’s to nab an award-winning author tag or to get their manuscript in front of a specific judge or to get feedback from judges on their manuscripts. Whatever the case, a good score sheet is vital and the Stiletto’s now has more in-depth questions to help writers get better feedback for their entries.

3. Final Round Judges.

This could have been a daunting task. Finding final round judges for the unpublished division was something that we wanted to be sure we got right. Thankfully, even though the Stiletto hadn’t been around in a few years, editors and agents jumped at the opportunity to judge the unpublished final round. Yay, CRW! We still got it! ;-)

4. Categories.

Another discussion in the committee was categories. Naturally, we chose only contemporary romance, because, well, we’re a contemporary romance chapter. Leaving paranormal, fantasy, historical, etc to the chapters that focus on those genres was a bit of a no-brainer for us. But, choosing the subgenres within contemporary romance was a further discussion. There were reasons for the categories chosen and reasons for categories not picked, but mainly it came down to max number of categories and leaving some to chapters that focus specifically on those subgenres, like YA and erotic.

We also wanted to include published authors as a new part of the Stiletto. Many of our members are published and self-published authors and we wanted to give them the opportunity to enter the contest. So we unanimously decided on two divisions−published and unpublished−to give every CRW member, and author and writer outside of CRW, an opportunity to enter a contest.

We are also one of the few chapters that has given published authors an entry choice of either ebooks or paperbacks. Many traditionally published authors don’t have access to their ebooks or maybe an author isn’t comfortable handing off their ebook. The committee came together and agreed that having both options available would be best. We’re truly happy with this decision that includes every author’s publishing route.

5. Category Coordinators.

Recruiting category leaders was not an easy task by any means. No one wants to volunteer time that they don’t have. But once again, the women who have agreed to be categories coordinators have been fantastic. And I can’t thank them enough for stepping up for the chapter.

6. Last but not least - Entrants!

We need your entries! The Stiletto Contest cannot run without entries. So if you’ve been on the fence, enter your novel or manuscript. If you’re a member, a published ebook entry or an unpublished manuscript is only $15! That is the lowest price of any chapter contest. How could you possibly beat that for the possibility of becoming an award-winning author or getting your manuscript in front of some of the best editors and agents in the industry?

I’ve severely paraphrased the process of bringing back the Stiletto Contest. It has been a great undertaking by all involved, from the committee to the category coordinators to the board. Every member who has played a part has been significant in bringing this contest back. And for that, the Contemporary Romance Writers board cannot thank you enough. We’re thrilled to have the contest back and better than ever!

Now, get those entries in before the submission date ends on Friday, April 7th.

Casey Clipper


Contemporary Romance Writers

Why We Should Enter Writing Contests

~ By Liza Keogh

So, you're thinking about entering a contest sponsored by RWA, or one of RWA's local or online chapters?

Good! I have some thoughts to nudge you along.

Some of us are plotters, some are pantsers, and some of us have created a hybrid of the two that works. Some of us are traditionally published, some of us are self-published, and some of us are hybrid.

What's important is we all started somewhere, and if we're even contemplating entering a writing contest, it means we also finished something we started. Woot!

When you're new to writing, a contest provides a concrete deadline. Some of us need a little pressure to get to the finishing line.

A contest can also provide you with feedback, from a bare-bones numbering system, to a few sentences, to a healthy chunk of pages that have been marked up by thoughtful, attentive judges.

A contest can also help you find other writers within the vast community that is the RWA. It can be daunting to wade in to a thriving organization and find your place. Entering a contest is one way to get to know the waters. Volunteering to judge the preliminary round is another. 

But, if you're curious, then just do it. Pressing send might feel a bit like jumping into your favorite swimming hole a few weeks too early, but the plunge is worth it.

Before you press that send button, let's review:

  • Do you have a completed manuscript?
  • Have you polished that manuscript so it's nice and shiny?
  • Run it through spell check and grammar check one more time. Just in case.


Go back to the contest rules page and read through carefully. Then, look at your manuscript.

  • Does it fit into one of the contest's categories?
  • Have you formatted it correctly? 
  • Have you removed all traces of identification from the file(s) you are sending?

Go back, again, and triple check those pesky formatting rules. They're important. You're submitting a piece of writing you believe in. It hurts to be disqualified because you forgot to remove your name from the file's properties, or you've formatted your pages into .docx, not .doc.

Good luck!

Liza is a pantser who craves organization and deadlines. She has a modest amount of experience with entering writing contests and knows what it's like to press send on a polished project, and what it's like to press send on something half-baked. Believe her, it feels much better to send in a piece of writing that is ready!

Most days, she can be found in her writing cabin, working towards her next Life Goal: becoming a published author. You can find her blogging at, and on twitter @lazy_liza_k.

The 2014 Stiletto Contest for Unpublished Contemporary Fiction is OPEN!

The 2014 Stiletto Contest for Unpublished Contemporary Fiction is OPEN!

 CLICK HERE for full details and to enter!

Entries Due by September 5, 2014

Questions? Please contact our Contest Coordinator, Lisa Siefert at lisalisalisalisalisa (at) gmail (dot) com.



Single Title Contemporary Romance (70,000 words and up)

  • A love story set in the contemporary/modern world in which the romance is the main focus of the novel and it has an optimistic or happy ending.
  • Final Judge: Amanda Bergeron, Editor, Avon Romance

Single Title Contemporary Erotic Romance (70,000 words and up)

  • A love story set in the contemporary/modern world in which sexual situations and the sexual relationship of the characters is fundamental to plot and characterization. May use explicit language and contain graphic descriptions. The erotic romance is the main focus of the novel and it has an optimistic or happy ending.
  • Final Judge: Christa Desir, Editor, Samhain Publishing

Short Contemporary Romance (40,000 – 70,000 words)

  • A shorter love story set in the contemporary/modern world in which the romance is the main focus of the novel and it has an optimistic or happy ending.
  • Final Judge: Alethea Spiridon Hopson, Editorial Director of Indulgence, Entangled
Contemporary Novel with Strong Romantic Elements (60,000 words and up)
  • A story set in the contemporary/modern world that includes romantic elements (situations, relationships, etc.) but in which the romance does not have to be the main focus of the novel. Examples of possibly relevant story types include but are not limited to women’s fiction, chick lit, contemporary fiction, etc.
  • Final Judge: Allison Carroll, Editor, Harlequin HQN

Young Adult Contemporary Romance (50,000 words and up)*

  • A love story set in the contemporary/modern world in which a romance between adolescents is the main focus of the novel and it has an optimistic or happy ending.
  • Final Judge: Margo Lipschultz, Editor, Harlequin Teen

Young Adult Contemporary Novel with Romantic Elements (50,000 words and up)*

  • A story set in the contemporary/modern world centered around adolescent characters that includes romantic elements (situations, relationships, etc.) but in which the romance does not have to be the main focus of the novel.
  • Final Judge: Elizabeth Poteet, Assistant Editor, St. Martin’s Press

New Adult Contemporary Romance (70,000 words and up)

  • A love story set in the contemporary/modern world in which a romance usually involving at least one college-aged character (i.e., 18-24) is the main focus of the novel and it has an optimistic or happy ending.
  • Final Judge: Nicole Fischer, Editor, William Morrow Books

All authors, regardless of publishing status, are welcome to enter this contest. All authors must be at least 18 years of age.

Submitted manuscripts must be new, original works of fiction that have not been published, self-published, or contracted to be published. Manuscripts must meet the word count minimums, as described in the corresponding Category section.

Authors may enter as many manuscripts as they choose, but each manuscript may be entered in only one category.

Each category must have a minimum of 10 entries to remain a part of this contest. RWA-CRW reserves the right to close a category if we receive less than 10 entries or more than 50 entries in that category.


To Contest or Not to Contest, That Was the Question

  IMG_6441c-8x10~ By Emelle Gamble I used to believe that contests would not help a writer’s career. I told fellow writer’s when the topic came up that I just didn’t think they were useful . Why put yourself through it, I asked?  Doesn’t it hurt you more if you lose one, or get stressful or inane remarks, than if you were to win one? I thought that for many years, back in the 1990s, when I was contracted with Harlequin Intrigue. I believed that the path to publishing was pretty straight…it went from idea to query to acceptance to contract. This old school approach sometimes saw people enter the RITA Golden Heart contest and attract attention, but most of us got published the old-fashioned way by getting pulled out of the slush pile (now there’s an expression to make us all feel creative) and moving to the next step. Then, I quit writing for a few years. When I dove back in around five years ago, I found a whole new crazy world where no path was straight and anything and everything was a possible avenue to getting one’s work considered for publications. I tried the old school way and was slapped with about 50 rejections, many of them ‘boiler plate’ ‘Dear Author’ missives I couldn’t believe were being sent to me.  My indie author friends suggested I consider publishing my three completed novels myself, my big-box author friends said to hang in there. Then one said, ‘Why don’t you send them in to a few contests, get a feel for what the market is thinking?” I took my old position that writers are artists, etc.  etc. etc.  bloody stupid etc. And then, (I am a slow learner)  a light bulb went off in my brain and I realized,  authors are judged, scored and assigned letters every day. By readers. Every time a reader reads a book, they decide if they’ve read a ‘good book’ or a ‘crummy book’,  or a book that ‘changed their life’ or made them ‘laugh out loud’. So why not a contest to see what the readers who could help you reach other readers, namely agents and editors and the authors who judge writing contests? So I entered. In the first two contests, I pretty much got dismal feedback. Some of it factually incorrect about my work, “these high school girls”…the characters are clearly in their 30’s…some of it pretty insulting, ”really, are you really opening a book with a description of the weather “, some very sweet but condescending, “you should show not tell…let us feel what the character’s are feeling” and some encouraging.  And, surprisingly, ALL OF IT HELPFUL. Even the incorrect, snide stuff. Really. Because it got me thinking and looking at my work with new eyes, based on feedback, no matter how I might disagree with it, from new readers. I reworked my manuscripts with this new insight and entered two more contests with each of my three books, and finaled with one of the manuscripts in each contest. One of these contests was The Stiletto Contest, held by the then Chick Lit RWA chapter that is now our RWA Contemporary chapter. I was heartened at making the finals. At being judged, at being graded and given points. I kept my fingers crossed. And placed Second in both. One of the judges of the Stiletto contest said, “The concept, which has two very different best friends swapping souls after a wish and before a deadly car crash, is derivative and quite stale.  We’ve seen this before, and this approach brings nothing that is imaginative or visionary to the dramatic table.” Ouch. But another one of the judges said this, “Alternating first-person POV is a brilliant choice for showcasing the emotional roller-coaster I sensed from the full synopsis. I found minimal mistakes inasmuch as grammar and typos are concerned, and as a result of the author’s care and attention to detail, she has produced a very polished contest entry. I would thoroughly enjoy reading the entire manuscript.”  Sigh. Of relief. And then, on the zig-zagging path I found myself, this judge contracted my novel, which was released in July, 2013. So my advice to any writer now is yes, definitely enter those contests. Keep your mind open to the reader’s responses, and keep the faith. Good things do happen to those who put themselves out there. Emelle Gamble became a writer at an early age. At  six years old she  wrote her first story about a lost bunny whose quest was to find out what kind of animal she was. This itch to tell tales evolved into bad teen poetry and tortured short works that thankfully never saw the light of day. As ‘M.L. Gamble,’ she published several romantic suspense novels with Harlequin Intrigue.  Soul Mate Publishing  has now contracted for Secret Sister, in July of 2013, and Dating Cary Grant, an early 2014 release. Always intrigued by the words ‘what if’, Gamble’s books feature an ordinary woman confronted with an extraordinary situation.  Emelle lives in suburban Washington D.C.  with her hero of thirty years, Philip,  and two orange cats, Lucy and Bella. Her two children are happily launched on their own and are both contributing great things to society, their mother’s fondest wish.  Emelle welcomes any reader interested to visit her website,  and  her Author Emelle Gamble Facebook page.

The Stiletto Opened a Door

I love to read romance. So when my husband took a new job in another state a couple of years ago, I suddenly found myself with the time to pursue the career I’d always wanted—writing Chick Lit. I’d been working on a novel for a while so I pulled it out and began a total rewrite. When I finished, I didn’t know what to do next. I began searching the web and found the Get Your Stiletto in the Door Contest. Who could resist? I entered two manuscripts in the 7th Annual Stiletto Contest, seeking constructive feedback from a panel of judges who understood the genre. The contest went beyond my expectations. Not only did I receive fabulous feedback, but I placed first in two categories—contemporary and romantic suspense. Any writer trying to get her foot, I mean, stiletto, in the door of romance writing should take advantage of this contest. The first round of judges gave such a wonderful detailed analysis that I have been revising my contemporary novel, The Ex Lottery, based on those suggestions. My romantic suspense novel, Shades of Gray, was already headed to the printer when I learned the results of the contest. I must admit I was sitting beside the Savannah River when I opened the email announcement, and I did a little happy dance—feet only—my butt stayed firmly planted to the bench. I read the comments from the contest and was tempted to pull the book and revise it just one more time, but I resisted. Besides, I had already rewritten it a million times based on reviews from my avid reader friends, my English teacher mom, my Nora-Roberts-addict daughter, my editor son, and so on. After receiving various “positive” rejections from agents and publishers, I self-published Shades of Gray. Actually, my husband shoved me in that direction. I was reluctant. If not for him, I would still be editing the book and sending it to potential agents. One day, he said enough—you wrote it; you like it; publish it. So with one brave step on very wobbly heels, I did just that. I never dreamed that almost 60,000 people would be reading my book just five months later. This month Shades of Gray made it to number one on Amazon’s Best Sellers List (Paid) in contemporary romance and second place in romantic suspense. I’ve received some wonderful reviews, including one that noted it was a Stiletto winner. The book was also a Kirkus Reviews Critics’ Pick. In May, I’ve been invited to participate on a panel at the 2012 South Carolina Book Festival in Columbia and sign copies of the novel. Let’s just say, I’m thrilled I found the contest. It gave me a boost of confidence and encouraged me to move forward. I’d recommend it to any romance writer because the detailed score sheets are invaluable. I look forward to reading the books of other winners. Kim Sanders was born and raised in the South and currently lives in South Carolina with her husband. Sanders received a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina and a doctor of law degree from Emory University. Over the years, she has worked as a journalist, a photographer, an editor, and an attorney. Shades of Gray is her debut novel.

Ready. Set. Stiletto!

Hello All! Can you believe it? The Get Your Stiletto in the Door Contest is almost upon us. Stay tuned for posts and interviews that highlight personal experiences with the contest, and general contest information. In the meantime, click here for past Stiletto related posts, and here for more details. And no, you don't have to be a member to enter. "Doors" open April 1st, so start polishing those stilettos. :-)

Get Your Stiletto in the Door: Chapter President Alana Albertson’s Experience

Alana Albertson, Chick Lit chapter president, first became involved with the special interest chapter through the Stiletto contest. A finalist in 2008, she’s an advocate for the chapter and the contest.
 “The Stiletto contest was an amazing experience. We train our judges and take great care to ensure that it is a fair contest. This year we have some amazing agents and editors and for the first time, all final entries will be read by an epublisher.”
Q. As a contest finalist, what advice would you offer those of us who would like to be in your shoes? A. Find a good mentor. A fellow ballroom dancer and writer introduced me to brilliant freelance editor, Deborah Halverson, who deleted two thirds of my first draft and taught me how to revise. She has been so much more than an editor to me. She introduced me to my agent, Jill Marsal. Q. In 2008, your manuscript DANCING UNDER THE STARS garnered a full request from Agent Michelle Grajkowski of 3 Seas Literary Agency. How did that work out? A. I submitted my manuscript to Michelle at the same time I submitted to Jill Marsal. Jill made me an offer three days after I submitted to her so I wrote Michelle and withdrew my submission. Jill was impressed with my Stiletto final and submitted my book as "award winning" to editors so that was nice. Q. Your Stiletto final manuscript also earned a revision request from Editor Latoya Smith of Grand Central Publishing. What's the current status of the manuscript? A. After a year of my agent submitting, we received some very kind rejections. An agent from the UK also submitted it and we had a few close calls but ultimately did not get a sale. The rejections were mostly along the lines of "wonderful voice, dynamic writing, not quite romance, not quite women's fiction."Uhm - isn't that the definition of chick lit? I was devastated and do plan to rewrite it as a contemporary romance when I'm done with my current projects. But two days ago I heard that the team who had produced Burn the Floor, a Broadway musical, was interested in turning my novel into a Broadway musical! So that would be even better than a book deal. Q. What was the biggest boost you got from your Stiletto final? A. The biggest boost I got from the contest was confidence! It was the first contest I ever entered and to be the runnerup was thrilling (especially since the winner was a published best selling author of a romance anthology!). It also encouraged me to become active in the Chick Lit chapter. The following year I coordinated the Classic category, then I became VP and ultimately I became the chapter President. I'd never even heard of RWA until I found the Stiletto contest - so I'm so thankful for finding both the Chick Lit chapter and the wonderful support of the members of RWA. Q. You describe yourself as a recovering Chick Lit writer. What made you decide to transition to another genre, and what does it take to switch genres? A. I told my agent that I wished that my rejections had said "her writing is horrible, we don't like the plot, her characters are bland." The senior editor at Mira said I was a "terrific writer", and the senior editor at Grand Central said that "Albertson is a spirited writer and her characters are so vivid. That said, I didn’t see this for 5 Spot—we’ve been tending a bit more serious on that list, and this novel, while fun, struck me as a little frothy for it. I shared it with a couple of colleagues who are great readers of all women’s fiction to see what they thought—and they agreed that it sort of fell in between romance (our Forever imprint) and 5 Spot."  I realized that I didn't want to waste my time writing books that weren't being published. I have no desire to self publish. I'm working on a YA now, with chick lit flair, and I love it. Just like I did when I started writing Chick Lit, I read every best selling YA book out there and got an idea of what was selling to get a handle on the genre. Q. What's next on your agenda? A. I'm finishing The Picture of Dulce Garcia, a modern paranormal chick litish YA retelling of my favorite novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. I'm also working on an inspirational non-fiction book about a female Marine who lost both her Marine brother and her Marine fiancé (and father of her 10-month-old son) within 48 hours. Then I will rewrite Dancing as a contemporary romance. Q. You're a small business owner, a wife, a mom--and a fiction writer! What's the key to balancing a full life? A. My husband is amazing and helps out with the baby. So having a great partner is key. I also try to delegate work and RWA obligations so my workload is managable. Alana Albertson is the President of Romance Writers of Americas’s Young Adult and Chick Lit chapters and the founder of Academe Advantage, a college admissions & test preparation company. Alana Albertson holds a Masters of Education from Harvard University and a Bachelor of Arts in English from Stanford University. A recovering Chick Lit author, Alana currently writes young adult fiction. She lives in San Diego, California, with her husband, nine-month old baby boy, and a menagerie of rescue pets. When she’s not spending her time needlepointing, quilting or scrapbooking, she can be found watching episodes of House Hunters, Entourage, or Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team. Wish you were in Alana Albertson’s fabulous shoes? Enter the 2011 Get Your Stiletto in the Door contest for unpublished manuscripts. Deadline for electronic entries is Sept. 6.

Get Your Stiletto in the Door: Mina Khan’s Experience

Today the Chick Lit Writers blog welcomes former Stiletto finalist Mina Khan. She's graciously given us an update on her writing career, as well as answering questions about her Stiletto experience. Her first book, The Djinn’s Dilemma, will be published this November by Harlequin Nocturne. Q. Mina Khan? Or Rashda Khan? A. On writing loops and other places, I'm known as Rashda Khan, but I'm making my debut with the pen name Mina Khan. My plans for getting published as a novelist took longer than I expected and I landed myself a gig as the food columnist for our local newspaper. Before I knew what was happening, I had a foodie career--writing the column, teaching cooking classes, blogging about food and volunteering at food-events like the Kids Eat Summer program. And I had a foodie following. Then I sold my novella, The Djinn’s Dilemma to Harlequin Nocturne to be part of their new Cravings line. Hot, sexy, fast-paced...and not about food. Lol! Well, I didn't want some little old lady picking up my book expecting cupcakes and getting a whole lot of beefcake instead. Hence the two names. I'll respond to both! Q. How do you balance the dual writing career and your family obligations? A. Hmm, I wake up very early (4 a.m. often) and write as much as I can before the rest of the family wakes up. Then I just tackle one task at a time for the rest of the day. Q. You were a Stiletto finalist in 2009. Where did that contest win lead you? A. In 2009, the book of my heart, Wild Fire, won the paranormal category of Stiletto Contest and garnered a request from Editor Latoya Smith of Grand Central Station. This win was a lifeline. I think every writer goes through up and downs, and I was at a very low point. At the point of wondering whether my dream to be a novelist was equal to panning for gold in West Texas...the Stiletto experience kept me writing. Eventually, Ms. Smith passed on the book, but I had pulled back from the brink. Wild Fire went on to land me my agent, Nalini Akolekar of Spencerhill Associates. Q. What did you learn from your Stiletto experience? A. Well, sometimes even when you win the contest and the editor loves your voice, it doesn't result in a sale. However, it showed me there were people (not related to me) who saw potential in my story and my voice. That kept me going. In fact, I still have Ms. Smith's very nice note. Q. What’s your current writing status? A. Right now I'm immersed in the worlds of djinns and magic and working on a second story set in the same world. That will be followed by a non-fiction proposal. Once those two projects are done, I plan to revisit Wild Fire. I'm plain stubborn and not giving up on it. Q. What advice do you have for aspiring writers? A. Be stubborn and persevere. Or to quote Galaxy Quest: "Never give up, never surrender!" Wish you were in Mina Khan’s fabulous shoes? Enter the 2011 Get Your Stiletto in the Door contest for unpublished manuscripts. Deadline for electronic entries is Sept. 6. Texas-based writer and food enthusiast Mina Khan day dreams of hunky paranormal heroes, magic, mayhem and mischief and writes them down as stories. Between stories, she teaches culinary classes and writes for her local newspaper. Other than that, she's raising a family of two children, two cats, two dogs and a husband. You can find Mina Khan online,, and Rashda Khan at or on twitter @SpiceBites. The Djinn’s Dilemma will be available in November from Harlequin Nocturne.

Get Your Stiletto in the Door: Deborah Blake’s Experience

The Journey of a Contest Winner: Triple Stiletto finalist Deborah Blake

The author of five non-fiction books and multiple articles, Deborah Blake visits the Chick Lit blog today with wise and realistic advice about writing contests and her road to publication. Q. In 2009, you earned two Stiletto finals: WITCH EVER WAY YOU CAN in the Thrill category, and KING ME in the paranormal category. WITCH EVER WAY YOU CAN also finaled in 2008. What's the current status of both manuscripts? A. For the moment, at least, they are both "under the bed." I learned a lot from them and someday will probably go back and apply that knowledge and send them out again. But for the moment, I am moving forward with other manuscripts. Q. What was the biggest boost you got from your Stiletto final? A. I spent about a year doing the contest circuit--the Stiletto was both the first (in 2009) and the last (in 2010) contest I entered, because I love it and the chapter so much. I think that the confidence I got from finalling was really helpful in keeping me moving forward; I also got some great practical feedback that kept me tweaking the manuscripts. I also participated both years as a judge (2009) and as a category coordinator (2010) and had a blast. I highly recommend doing either or both. Q. As a contest finalist and an agented author, what advice would you offer those of us who would like to be in your (fabulous) shoes? A. First: take all the feedback with a grain of salt. I got back some feedback that was truly helpful and encouraging, and some that was so far off-base I wondered if they'd even read the ms. If a comment is repeated in more than one response (ie--your character comes across as too unlikable), you probably want to take a serious look at that issue. But there are some folks who are simply negative and critical, and you need to ignore them and move on. Second: when you start entering contests, figure out what your goals are and only enter those contests that will help you achieve them. I spent A LOT of time and money during the year I was doing the contest circuit, but I think it was worth it. I wanted to get useful feedback (which I did, both from agents/editors and first-round judges) and also have my work seen by agents and editors. Make sure that the contests you are entering will achieve your goals. (For instance, there is no point in entering your ms in two contests that have the same final judge.) Q. Was signing with your agent a direct result of Stiletto? A. No, it wasn't, although I think all the things I did during my two-year agent hunt contributed to my final success at getting an agent. I kept subbing the first novel until I had a lot of positive responses and had narrowed my list of potential agents to five "top" choices who said, "Not this one, but send me something else." I sent the second book out to a couple of them, who said "Really not this, but send me something else." (Snicker.) So I took what I'd learned from writing the first two--which was mainly that I needed more depth--and wrote number three, an urban fantasy that got me my agent on the first round of submissions. Q. What process have you and your agent been through in attempting to sell your fiction? A. Argh. We subbed the UF to all the top houses and got rejections. Lots of very nice, positive rejections. So now I'm working on whatever novel is next. Q. Does your agent also represent your non-fiction? A. I handled the first five books myself, since they sold before I signed with Elaine (Elaine Spencer, of The Knight Agency). She handled my last one, and will handle any I sell in the future. Q. What do you see as the biggest differences between getting published in non-fiction vs. fiction? A. For me, at least, NF was a lot easier. For one thing, you can often sell the book with a proposal (outline, sample chapters), especially once you have one or two already out. With fiction, you have to have written the entire book first, at least until you have a solid reputation built. Also, there is a lot less editing in NF :-) Q. What's next on your agenda? A. I am working on a proposal for the next NF, and starting to get seriously into coming up with the idea for the next novel(s). Also working on a number of articles I have due for the Llewellyn annuals and my ongoing column in the Witches & Pagans Magazine. Q. Is writing your day job? Yes and no. I have a 3/4 time day job running an artists' cooperative shop and making jewelry that I sell there. But I treat the writing like a job too, and dedicate 2-3 hours minimum almost every day to working on some aspect of it. When I'm deep in a manuscript, that can often go to five hours or more. Deborah, thanks for taking the time to share your story. We look forward to reading your next work! Wish you, too, had an agent? Follow in Deborah's footsteps with an entry in the 2011 Get Your Stiletto in the Door contest for unpublished manuscripts. Deadline for electronic entries is Sept. 6. Deborah Blake is the author of Circle, Coven and Grove: A Year of Magickal Practice (Llewellyn 2007), Everyday Witch A to Z: An Amusing, Inspiring & Informative Guide to the Wonderful World of Witchcraft (Llewellyn 2008), The Goddess is in the Details: Wisdom for the Everyday Witch (Llewellyn2009), Everyday Witch A to Z Spellbook (July 2010) and Witchcraft on a Shoestring (September 2010). She has published numerous articles in Pagan publications. Her award-winning short story, “Dead and (Mostly) Gone” is included in the Pagan Anthology of Short Fiction: 13 Prize Winning Tales (Llewellyn, 2008). Deborah’s first novel, Witch Ever Way You Can, was the winner or finalist in many RWA (Romance Writers of America) contests and received the EMILY “Best of the Best” Award.Her fiction is primarily Paranormal Romance, although she also writes Fantasy, Mystery and Young Adult. She is represented by agent Elaine Spencer of The Knight Agency. Deborah had been interviewed on television, radio and podcast, and can be found online at Facebook, Twitter and When not writing, Deborah runs The Artisans’ Guild, a cooperative shop she founded with a friend in 1999, and also works as a jewelry maker. She lives in a 100 year old farmhouse in rural upstate New York with five cats who supervise all her activities, both magickal and mundane.

Get Your Stiletto in the Door: Suzanne Lazear’s Experience

Please welcome Suzanne Lazear to the Chick Lit blog today. Suzanne is a former Stiletto finalist and soon-to-be-published author of Innocent Darkness, first in a young adult steampunk series called The Aether Chronicles. Hope you enjoy Suzanne’s story about her publication journey. In 2009, your manuscript INTERFLUIT earned a full request from Agent Tamar Rydzinski of Laura Dail Literary Agency. On your website, I learned that your debut novel, INNOCENT DARKNESS will be released by Flux in August, 2012, and that your agent is Laura Bradford of the Bradford Literary Agency. How did you get from Point A to Point B? When I placed with Interfluit in the Stiletto in 2009 I was already working on my Steampunk YA Innocent Darkness. Interfluit was my first attempt at writing YA, Innocent Darkness my second. (Though I’d written several adult manuscripts.) Tamar had given me some great feedback on Interfluit which caused me to do some major overhauls, including the ending. I sent her my revised full manuscript in early 2010 around the same time I started querying Innocent Darkness. My query process for ID was very different from Interfluit, since few agents were looking for Steampunk at that time. While I was querying agents for ID, someone in my local RWA chapter let me know that the editor from Flux was looking for Steampunk, she also let me know that Laura Bradford was also looking for Steampunk. Off went my queries. In April of 2010 the editor from Flux, Brian Farrey emailed me and let me know he was halfway though my (unsolicited) manuscript, liked it and wanted to talk. Around the same time, Laura requested the full of ID. Things when pretty quickly from there. Ultimately, Tamar rejected Interfluit, though she gave me even more good feedback about why the story didn’t quite work. But, Brian took ID to editorial review and a few days later offered me a two-book contract. A few hours later, while I was at McDonalds, of all places, I got “the call” from Laura offering me representation. This was all April of 2010. Innocent Darkness, book one in The Aether Chronicles, will be published by Flux in August of 2012. Even though Interfluit remains unsold, the Stiletto was a very valuable experience for me. One day I hope to revisit that story. Please share a little bit about your novel. Innocent Darkness is a YA Steampunk dark fairytale which takes place in an alternate version of Victorian California. Sixteen-year-old Noli Braddock's hoyden ways land her in an abusive reform school far from home. On mid-summer's eve she wishes to be anyplace but that dreadful school. A mysterious man from the Realm of Faerie rescues her and brings her to the Otherworld, only to reveal that she must be sacrificed, otherwise, the entire Otherworld civilization will perish (description from goodreads). Steampunk is the intersection of Victorian romanticism and modern technology. I’ve got a definition of steampunk here, on the steampunk group blog I run with several other steampunk authors. What has changed between your first pitch for your novel and how you describe it now? There’s not a huge difference between my original query pitch and the current Goodreads description. However, I tend to just describe it verbally as “Steampunk Faeries.” Sometimes I’ll add “It has kissing.” What was the biggest boost you got from your Stiletto final? I had been ready to give up on Interfluit when I entered it in the Stiletto. Not only was I ready to give up on it, I was ready to give up on writing YA entirely. It was really hard for me to learn to write YA, mostly because I kept trying to censor myself in ways that later proved unnecessary. Finaling, then placing in the Stiletto made me realize that even if Interfluit wasn’t “the manuscript” that I could write YA – and the feedback I received on all levels really helped me discover what was/wasn’t working, which I could also apply to Innocent Darkness. As a contest finalist, what advice would you offer those of us who would like to be in your (fabulous) shoes? Don’t give up. Keep learning, keep writing. All through querying and contesting Interfluit I not only kept revising it, but I worked on other things, like Innocent Darkness. You may not sell your first manuscript and that’s okay. Innocent Darkness was manuscript 10 (or 11, I can’t remember. The first half dozen or so were really bad. Apparently books need plots). Also, every writer has their own process and own journey—and that’s okay, too. What's next on your agenda? I have some new projects I’m working on, including an Elfpunk, the sequel to Innocent Darkness, and a new YA with lots of kissing. Thanks so much, Suzanne, for visiting the Chick Lit chapter blog. Thanks for having me on! ~ Wish you were in Suzanne Lazear’s fabulous shoes? Enter the 2011 Get Your Stiletto in the Door contest for unpublished manuscripts. Deadline for electronic entries is Sept. 6. Suzanne Lazear writes Steampunk stories for teens. Her Young Adult Steampunk dark fairytale "Innocent Darkness", Book 1 of The Aether Chronicles, will be released from Flux in August of 2012. She always plays with swords, is never described as normal, and has been known to run with bustles. Suzanne lives in Southern California with her daughter, the hubby, a hermit crab, and two chickens, where she’s currently attempting to make a raygun to match her ball gown. Visit her blog at and her website