Welcome Wednesday guests for September:
9/03 Beach-Read novelist, Mary Hogan (Two Sisters);
9/10 Fast-track Guppy Annette Dashofy (Lost Legacy);
9/17 Florida Coast author, Terrie Farley Moran (Well Read, Then Dead);
9/24 Cozy Confection author, Kathy Aarons (Death Is Like A Box Of Chocolates).


Gloria Alden's latest publication is nonfiction. Boys Will Be Boys: The Joys and Terrors of Raising Boys. Edited by Cher'ley Grogg was recently released and available on Amazon. Gloria wrote three essays and two poems in her chapter included in the book.


Don't miss next month's release of Chesapeake Crimes: Homicidal Holidays on October 7th, in which WWK bloggers Shari Randall ("Disco Donna") and E. B. Davis ("Compromised Circumstances") have short stories.


KM Rockwood's short stories will appear in two anthologies released in October. They are: "The Lure of the Owl" in Swamp Mansion and Other Dark Stories, to be released as a ebook, and "Aunt Olga and the Werewolf" will be included in the third Creatures, Crimes and Creativity anthology release by Intrigue Publishing. at their conference in October.

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

An Interview with Daphne Finalist, Polly Iyer

Polly Iyer, a Massachusetts native living in the South, found writing late in life after a career in art and business. She’s written nine books and in between writing new ones, keeps rewriting the finished ones. Over and over and over, always striving for perfection even though she knows there’s no such thing as perfect. She enjoyed illustrating storyboards and running an upscale home furnishings store, but writing turned into the passion that had eluded her. She loves creating characters who murder, love, hate, and connive, who get under her skin and keep her up at night thinking about them because they’ve become so real. She speaks dialogue in the car while driving, makes notes in the middle of half-heartedly doing something else, and prays that no one notices her idiosyncratic behavior and carts her off to some place nice and quiet where she can be treated. But no one has found her out yet, so she’ll keep writing and rewriting and loving every minute. Polly’s website can be found at: http://www.pollyiyer.com/.

EBD: A few weeks ago, the Romance Writers of America’s (RWA) Kiss of Death (KoD) subchapter announced the winners of their annual Daphne du Maurier contest. Unpublished writers may enter their manuscripts in one of six categories. Polly Iyer came in second place for her InSight manuscript in the “Mainstream Mystery/Suspense” category. I wanted to interview Polly because I had thought about entering a manuscript, but chickened out. Polly gives us the inside scoop on this prominent contest.

EBD: Are you a RWA member? A Kiss of Death member? Do you think it matters if you are a member?

PI: I’ve been an RWA member for years, but not a KoD member. I don’t think membership matters in the judging of the contest, if that’s what you mean. These contests entries are blind. The judges have no idea whether you belong to either group.

EBD: In the contest’s rules, you must submit only the first five thousand words. Then they suggest that those five thousand words end in a hook. You have to write to the contest because a normally written manuscript may not just happen to end in a hook at that point. I find that contrived. Did you write the manuscript with the Daphne in mind or did you tweak a ms you already completed?

PI: Fortunately, my five thousand words/twenty pages had a hook that I didn’t have to manufacture, and my guess is that most writers can find a good place to stop within the given confines of the contest. My stopping point wasn’t the end of the chapter, however, but on the second go-around, I added the remaining pages to complete it. I didn’t write the manuscript with the contest in mind. In fact, I wrote the book some time ago and even entered it in the romantic suspense category of the Daphne before, obviously without the same results. When a writer decides to enter any contest, she must accept the parameters set by the contest rules; otherwise, contests aren’t for that writer. If the rules affect your sensibilities, don’t enter.

EBD: How did it feel knowing that those first 5000 words, which are the limit for initial entry, could eliminate your manuscript from the competition?

PI: Actually, I didn’t really think about that. First of all, I entered two books. The second entry didn’t fare as well. I got one perfect score, but the other judges didn’t agree. In both instances, I wrote the best beginning I could. The reason for entering a contest is for the feedback you get. Sometimes it helps to read what four objective judges think are the plusses and minuses of the first twenty pages, which we all know is the most crucial part in attracting an agent or editor. That doesn’t mean you’ll agree with everything. Ultimately, it’s your choice to either make changes based on their comments or not.

EBD: How did you decide on a category? My manuscript could have fit in one or more.

PI: Mine, too. I already mentioned that InSight fit into the romantic suspense category. Mainstream may or may not have a romance, and I judged both books I entered to be more suspense than romance. So that’s where I entered them.

EBD: For the mainstream category, which subcategory did you choose? And did you choose one from the examples that they stated in the rules? If so, was that calculated?

PI: Choosing the subcategory was a no-brainer. InSight doesn’t reach the level of thriller. There’s too much character development, and a thriller is more a constant series of heart-stopping action. I definitely don’t write cozies or chic-lit, and it wasn’t a YA. That left mystery/suspense.

EBD: I hate it when contests or agents ask for a synopsis and then tell you to end in a hook. To me, that’s a pitch, not a synopsis. In a synopsis, you give the ending away, but not in a pitch. How did you handle that?

PI: I took that to mean to wrap up your synopsis in an enticing way. Something that makes an agent or an editor want to read more. Synopses should tie up the story, and, yes, include the ending. The genre of your manuscript will dictate how you end your synopsis. Example: romance should have a happily-ever-after ending. A book in a series might hint at things to come. On the other hand, I agree with you. A pitch is a tease—a one or two line “hook,” if you will, given verbally or as a blurb in your query that entices an agent or editor to ask for the first few chapters, or better still, the full manuscript. Both are different, but the end goal is the same.

EBD: On second round, you submit the first twenty-five pages along with the synopsis. Did you again tweak the manuscript so the chapter ended at page twenty-five and again with a hook? (I assume you did that before the contest so you wouldn’t have to scramble.)

PI: You have the option of increasing the page count to twenty-five, on second round, but you don’t have to. Some finalists decided not to mess with success. I did send the rest of the chapter, which again, ended without tweaking. Well, maybe a word or two. I’m a constant tweaker anyway. I don’t think I’ve ever read over anything of mine that I’ve left alone. My critique partner can attest to that.

EBD: Winning contests is a goal of many writers because it gets their names above the pack. Have you been contacted by any agents or editors? (St. Martins, Donald Maass or anyone else?)

PI: No. I do have an agent, but neither of the judges asked for more, and my agent is pitching two other books, not InSight. The characters in my book are disabled, and that’s not an easy sell. Agents and editors say they are looking for different, but I’ve had this book rejected early on by prospective agents on the premise that it wouldn’t sell because of the subject matter. So, different but not too different. I’m not saying that’s the reason no one asked for more. The work obviously didn’t do the trick for either of them. I did get a “Good Writing” comment from the editor.

EBD: Do you have any advice for next year’s newbie competitors?

PI: Write the best manuscript you can. Look at the contest as a critique opportunity not a pathway to publication. A good contest like the Daphne is a way to improve your manuscript and possibly connect with an agent or an editor who will be interested in your work. It’s a win-win, as long as you go into it with the right attitude.

EBD: Was the feedback you received from the judges enough to warrant a rewrite? Do you think it will make your manuscript more sellable?

PI: No. I think if you’ve reached the level of finalist, top five out of one hundred in Mainstream, you wouldn’t have received a critique that warranted a major rewrite. Sure, there are parts I will tweak because of the comments, but a rewrite? No. Actually, the score that was thrown out, the lowest one, had some very good comments. But that’s because she found more wrong with the manuscript than the other judges.

EBD: How did you feel about the judging in general?

PI: These ladies volunteer. Personally, I can’t express the gratitude I have for the coordinators and the judges. They did a spectacular job, taking time away from their own writing to benefit others. It’s very difficult to judge a complete book from a six-hundred-seventy-five-word synopsis. Judges want to know more, and it’s impossible to include every nuance, detail every secondary character, explain every plot point, and still maintain the salient aspects of the story. Frankly, I’d rather write ten books than a short synopsis—let me clarify, any synopsis. But it’s a worthy exercise. Hopefully, the judges got a sense of the story. I think they did.

9 comments:

Ellis Vidler said...

Great interview with Polly. It offered so much insight (no pun intended ) into entering contests with a good attitude and what to expect. Makes me want to enter something. Very helpful!
Ellis Vidler

Linda Lovely said...

Enjoyed the interview Polly. I agree 100 percent with your advice on entering contests. They offer great learning opportunities as long as you don't obsess over a bad score or less than flattering comments. And you're right--sometimes the most thought-provoking comments come from judges who gave you the worst scores.
Linda Lovely

E. B. Davis said...

Next time, maybe I won't be so chicken!

Ramona said...

Polly, thanks for the insight into the Daphne Awards, and congrats to you on doing so well. I'm hoping to see InSight in print, soon.

James Montgomery Jackson said...

I learned an excellent lesson from the year I entered the Daphne contest. I scored one perfect; one almost perfect and one absolutely abysmal.

The comments were almost as though they were reading different manuscripts. The very things that most pleased two, most displeased the third.

I learned from that experience that my writing was never going to please everyone, and my task was to find the agent/publisher/readers who resembled the two judges. I'd never satisfy the third.

~ Jim

Lynda Fitzgerald said...

Polly, I'm so proud of you! You deserve the success. In fact, you deserve a whole lot of success.

Congratulations!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

INSIGHT is fabulous. Absolutely. And I know someday, looking back, you'll tell a story about how at first, no editor wanted it...and then, how it all changed..

As a contest judge, I've seen some entries that are SO AWFUL you wouldn't believe it. I'm sorry to say it, but it's true. I've seen mansuscripts that defy editing because there's nothing to edit.

SO two hints from my experience:

Please, do some research and work into your genre and into writing. Please don't use the contest as a freebie edit. (Do you all agree? Or am I wrong here?)

And also--and I know this sounds so ridiculous--make sure your ms. is formatted correctly, and follows the basic rules of punctuation. I HAVE powered though crazy-looking entries to find the jewels buried within. But why risk that a judge will do that?

And one more thing, a confession: I am terrified that I am not always "right." And what is "right," anyway? So remember it's all a process--take from it what you can use, and let the bad stuff roll off your back.

I'm not wrong about Polly, though.
Of that, I'm certain!

Donnell said...

I can't believe I missed this post. Polly, you basically nailed everything about the Daphne! And congratulations on writing such a phenomenal book! I imagine the judges' comments had little, if anything, to complain about when you reach #2 out of 100 manuscripts. We have to cap mainstream because when you have four judges per manuscript for unpublished...that's a lot of judges.

Jim, I'm sorry your experience didn't fair as well, but I hope you received some feedback you can use. That's the purpose after all. Not just to help people rise to publication, but to make their ms. better and better if possible.

Thanks, Ellis, for posting this link.

Oh... And about the synopsis in the Daphne... It's unjudged... It's a guideline for our judges to see where the author is going.

All best,
Donnell Ann Bell
Outgoing Daphne Coordinator ;) but still a strong supporter and advisor

Polly said...

Thanks for all the nice comments. I live in fear that if Hank ever reads the full manuscript, she'll hate it. But I'm willing to chance it. It was a pleasure meeting Donnell, who worked so hard to make the Daphnes the success it was.