Entering contests held by publishing houses can be a great way to get your foot in the publishing door. Here is the story of how author, Amy Spitzfaden, did just that with her debut novel Untold.
When I got the idea for Untold I had the feeling, “this is one I think I can go all the way with.” I’d had the thought before (“I’ll publish this one, I know I will!”), but there was something special about Untold. Maybe it was because it was the first novel I’d started drafting that had a strong focus on plot, instead of solely characters/setting, or maybe it was because I was staring down the barrel of my last year of college and needed a plan for what to do after. Whatever the reason, I picked up the idea and ran with it.
I’m not sure how long I would have kept it to myself if my old boss hadn’t shared a link to a contest online. Applicants, who were supposed to be from the town where I went to college, were to submit a full-length edited manuscript and cover letter, the judges would select six finalists, the public would vote on their favorite option. The winner would receive a publishing contract with 1st World Publishing.
I had graduated and was back living in New Hampshire at that point, and Untold wasn’t quite what I would have called “finished”, but I felt confident I could bring it up to snuff on time. I emailed the judges and asked if, even though I wasn’t currently living in Fairfield, Iowa, could I be allowed to enter the contest? I had, after all, only recently left, I was still registered to vote there, and I really, really wanted to be allowed to enter. The judges said yes.
What followed was a month of scrambling: throwing out the ending of Untold and adding a new one, shifting character names, descriptions, and motivations, writing and rewriting pivotal scenes until I was ready to scream and then, finally, submitting the manuscript one afternoon when I was home alone, so there was no one around to ask if I was ready. I attached my carefully worded cover letter, hit send, then went outside and yelled.
I received the email telling me I was chosen to be a finalist the same night that my father-in-law passed away. My husband and I had made an emergency trip to Holland to be with him in his final days, and for those two weeks were like being in an alternate universe. The language was different, so were the people, and something that I had imagined to be full of only grief was laced with a surprising amount of love and joy. In this setting, it was hard to believe that the email saying I was moving on to the next stage of the contest was something that would follow me back into my real life.
But it did. A month later, we were back home and the contest was open.
The contest started out being so much fun. Each of the finalists read a ten-page excerpt from our books, and these excerpts were played on a local radio station in Fairfield. People were reading our samples, commenting (not all nicely), and voting for their favorites. It was exciting, nerve-wracking, and gave me some more time to tweak a few scenes that I thought were less-than-stellar. My husband was the force behind the campaign, asking every single person he knew on Facebook to vote for me, while I dithered shyly over whether or not to ask some of the people I had gone to high school with. My friends were sharing, my family was cheering, and the whole thing felt sportsmanlike and fair. Until I started to win.
More from Amy next Thursday when she will go into the reality of a contest where other contestants won't lose without getting dirty! Read my review of Untold here or an interview with Amy here. You can find Amy on Facebook and her Website.
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