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 Unpublished writers may enter their manuscripts in one of six categories.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.
WWK Blogger Paula Gail Benson has two short stories running in Kings River Life Magazine this weekend, "Pelican Spring" and "The Mama Factor." Both are Mother's Day short stories. You can read them by going to: http://kingsriverlife.com/category/kings-river-reviewers/terrific-tales/
Linda Rodriguez is a finalist in two categories for the International Latino Book Awards (given out at BEA the end of May)--one for Every Last Secret and one for editing Woven Voices: 3 Generations of Puertorriquena Poets Look at Their American Lives (with Gloria Vando, Anika Paris, and Anita Velez-Mitchell). Congratulations, Linda!
The second SinC Guppy anthology, Fish Nets, has been released by Wildside Press. WWK authors, Gloria Alden, Warren Bull, Kara Cerise and E. B. Davis have short stories in this volume, which can be bought at Wildside Press, the usual retailers and will be available at the Malice Domestic Conference. Look for "the story behind the stories" on May 1 here!
Upcoming Salad Bowl Saturdays include authors Sasscer Hill on 5/18 and Carolyn Mulford on 5/25. If you are interested in being a guest blogger, send a message to Jim Jackson at email@example.com.