‘Are you sitting down?’
I was asked this just before I was told that I had beaten 7,000 entrants to win the Good Housekeeping Magazine New Novel Competition of 2012. I think my reply was ‘Blimey!’
Until then I had always thought of competitions of all kinds as something that other people won. Fortunately that had never stopped me from entering them but this was the first time I had got anywhere. The prize had several components - the chance of publication, a generous advance and the help of an agent. It was described as potentially life changing and it has certainly lived up to that. From being unpublished and facing fighting my way to the top of the slush pile with everyone else, I am now a full time writer with an agent, two novels out and a third in the planning stages.
The book that won the competition, my historical thriller ‘City of Devils’, went on to be selected for the ‘Best Read’ category of the Specsavers ITV 3 Crime Thriller awards for 2013. An interview with me was shown on the Crime Thriller Book Club on ITV3 and my book was reviewed by bestselling authors Mark Billingham, Kate Mosse, Lee Childs and Peter James. I attended an awards dinner at the Royal Grosvenor Hotel and got to sit next to one my writing heroes, Ian Rankin. Over the last few years since winning I have met some wonderful people and learned an enormous amount about writing and publishing.
There are lots of different kinds of competitions - flash fiction, short stories, agent’s competitions as well as newspapers and magazines and almost all are worth entering - not just for the winning but for writing practice as well. Obviously each will have different criteria but there are some things you can do which might help. (Many thanks to writing friends Liz Kershaw and Sarah J Baxter, both prolific competition winners, for their input with these.)
Let’s assume that you have been successful. How do make the most of your win?
A win or even being placed or shortlisted in a competition does wonders for your confidence but it can also have other more practical uses. The judges on a panel are usually publishing professionals who have endorsed your ability. When you are trying to attract the attention of an agent or publisher, competition success makes you stand out and gives them confidence that you can write well. Give it prominence in your CV and include it in your covering letter. You can also blog and use social media to chat about it.
Having said all of that, the best advice about competitions is just to enter them. Someone has to win. Why shouldn’t it be you?
Diana Bretherick was a criminal barrister for ten years and is a visiting lecturer in criminology and criminal justice at the University of Portsmouth. Her first novel, City of Devils (published by Orion in 2013) won the Good Housekeeping New Novel Competition in 2012 and was selected for the 2013 Specsavers Crime Thriller Book Club. Her second novel The Devil’s Daughters was recently published in paperback by Orion.