The Get Your Stiletto in the Door contest is directly or indirectly responsible for a few of my milestones. I love this chapter’s contest. I’ve acted as entrant, judge and coordinator over the years.
The first time I entered, I believe it was in 2004, it was with a very early draft of a darkly funny women’s fiction manuscript with an older heroine and two alternating timelines. It wasn’t exactly chick lit, but I figured it was close enough to enter. Back then the entries were longer, the same length as Golden Heart entries, and I remember trying to get far enough into my WIP to have enough pages to send by the deadline.
My entry was rough.
But I indirectly got my first agent because of that contest entry. No, it didn’t final. Not even close. But my judges’ scores were so wildly different from each other, and the comments so disparate, that the contest coordinator that year, Diana Peterfreund, read my entry to see what was up. The judges weren’t crazy about my entry (one was encouraging and helpful, the other hated it), but Diana loved it and contacted me. The next summer, when I had finished the manuscript, I introduced myself to Diana at the chick lit chapter party, she introduced me to her agent and pitched my book to her. I’ll never forget that. She didn’t know me from a hole in wall, but she remembered my contest entry well enough to spontaneously pitch it. About seven months later, (I still had to submit a partial and wait, then submit a full and wait) I had an agent.
That manuscript went on to final in both the 2007 Golden Heart and the inaugural Amazon Breakout Novel competition. But in spite of its contest success and accolades, and coming close at several houses, alas, it has not yet found an editor who loves it enough to convince her publisher to put it under contract. It definitely suffered from hitting desks in NYC just as publishers were telling their editors, “NO MORE CHICK LIT.” But I do hope it will find its right time. Even if I have to rewrite it. Now is a way better time than 2005….
Switching Sides is my manuscript that was a finalist in 2009. That manuscript was also a Golden Heart and Golden Pen finalist. Although it’s a body swap story and a little “out there”, I consider it even more chick lit than the first one, and it has actually never been shopped to NYC, with the exception I suppose of the editor who requested a partial after the 2009 Stiletto. That editor requested the full after reading the partial (!!), but ended up passing. And by that time I’d already been offered my first contract to write YA fiction and decided to concentrate on teen fiction for the time being. Switching Sides is sitting on my hard drive, waiting for the right time.
While I don’t think aspiring authors should take every word offered by contest judges as gospel–most judges are also aspiring authors, and some know more than others–I do think that one can learn a lot from entering contests. I know I did. One of the hardest things to learn as an author is how to not only accept criticism with grace, but to parse through conflicting opinions and decide which pieces of advice to accept and which to reject. There’s nothing better than having several anonymous opinions, say two-three judges from two-three contests, to separate the advice wheat from the chaff so to speak. It can be confusing the first time. But the more you learn about writing and the more you hone your craft, the easier it will be to glean great advice and insights (and reject silly advice and biased opinions) from contest judges.
I also love contests because of the positive reinforcement when you final, or even get some positive comments from the judges. The publishing business is so full of rejection and disappointment, I think we need to grab accolades whenever we can. Even if your writing is publisher-ready, you won’t final every time, but a first chapter strong enough to attract agent/editor attention is bound to final in some contests. I’d say I made about six-seven contest entries after I had an agent but before I was published (counting the GH and Amazon contests) and was a finalist in better than half of them. I also did spectacularly badly in a few–with the same pages–which just goes to demonstrate how highly unpredictable contests can be. But I don’t think that unpredictability means contests are invalid or a waste of time. Au contraire. I think they mirror the publishing industry well: unpredictable and subjective, but the cream eventually rises to the top. As do some strange twigs and other random floaties.
Maureen McGowan’s first two novels, Cinderella: Ninja Warrior and Sleeping Beauty: Vampire Slayer were released on April 1, 2011 by Silver Dolphin Books. She’s in discussions with a major publisher for her YA post-apocalyptic-set thriller trilogy, and hopes to announce exciting news in September. Born and raised in Canada, she currently lives and writes in Toronto.
Wish you were in author Maureen McGowan’s fabulous shoes? Enter the 2011 Get Your Stiletto in the Door contest for unpublished manuscripts. Deadline for electronic entries is Sept. 6.