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 http://deborahblake.blogspot.com
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.