The 2014 Manuscript Contest (https://writersleague.org/109/Manuscript-Contest) is now accepting entries. The deadline for submission is February 21st, 2014 at midnight.
        Shirley Redwine won in the 2013 mystery category. This is her experience with the contest.
shirley redwine pic
When Sara Kocek invited me to write about winning the 2013 Manuscript Contest for mystery, I had to think about it.
We enter because we want to win, don’t we? But I’m a cautious, don’t-get-your-hopes-up type. The truth is, my first reaction to the news that I’d been named a finalist was disbelief, astonishment when I actually won! Followed by the insidious thrill of possibility seeping through my protective armor of low expectations.
Rachel Vogel. My prize, my privilege to meet with that exalted creature of my fantasies: a serious agent. If she liked the first ten pages, she might like the whole manuscript. Why not? Maybe she’d help me fix whatever needed fixing. Her background as a “scout” for foreign publishers and the movies suggested sophistication; a literary spy watching from inside a Parisian café. And, oh, when I actually saw her – she looked the part — petite, chic, with intense turquoise eyes.
As soon as she spoke, her get-down-to-business manner dispelled the daydream. The real Ms. Vogel was prepared with questions indicating she’d actually read my ten-page submission, remembered the characters and was curious about the story line. In fact, her questions injected a sliver of doubt in my mind about the plotting.  Tactfully, she cautioned that the mystery genre is competitive. Publishers allot only a certain number of slots for the genre and established authors come out with yearly offerings to fill those up.  When she agreed to look at the entire manuscript I breathed a sigh of relief.
Kirby Kim was a 2013 panelist who told us candidly that he was busy, not really looking for more authors in his portfolio, but of course, he was always open to — . He seemed nice so I screwed up my courage, one of the very few times that I buttonholed an agent at the conference. He agreed that I could query him and subsequently read the whole thing.
In the end, neither of them agreed to represent my novel, but I am undeterred, in fact energized. Meager though their comments were, they had more substance than the form rejections I’d received to my queries. Ms. Vogel liked the main character, but didn’t love the plot. Mr. Kim liked the premise but was looking for more voice and propulsion.
Hmm. Spare words. Guidance from the Ouija board. What does it all mean? I turned to my beloved writing group for interpretation.
First response: send out more queries in hope of a positive response from a different agent. I didn’t do much of that. Second response: homework assignments.
Following the wise advice of my writing friends, I’ve spent the past six months reading commercially successful mysteries, especially those recommended as good examples of voice and propulsion, marking the best passages, returning to ask myself, how did the author do that?
John Banville and J.K. Rowling have both written mysteries under assumed names. He’s won awards for his literary novels and it’s generally acknowledged that she knows how to tell a story, so I’m studying their novels as well. Despite pretty good reviews, neither achieved the sales figures of some of the name brands (although Ms. Rowlings’ got a big bump when her identity was revealed). So there’s a good lesson: even for a literary star, it isn’t that easy to launch a “debut novel” into an established field.  Agents and publishers have reason to be cautious.
Although I don’t have an agent, I’m proud that my colleagues at WLT saw something in my work and gave me a prize. The message I take home from the agents is “learn your craft.”
I’m working on a new manuscript; one with the same protagonist, a darker theme, more suspects and more twists. Maybe this time I’ve learned something. Maybe this time I’ll write a story that readers can’t put down. And if I do, I know the names of two smart agents I can query.
Thank you WLT! I’ll be there for Conference 2014.

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