When I first started writing almost ten years ago, I made myself one promise: I wasn’t going to spend my own money to get published. This meant not only no vanity press publication, but also no writer’s workshops, no new laptop computer, no editor telling me what I was doing wrong at six dollars a page. Understand, I’m not criticizing anyone for paying for those things. (I salute any writer who’s willing to put her money where her book is.)
But I wanted to see if I could do it without spending. I didn’t even buy Microsoft Word. I wrote the whole thing in a couple of slightly used spiral-bound notebooks.
Throughout the unpublished years, I kept to my promise. I didn’t spend any money if it could possibly be avoided. No workshops. No editors. No contests that had an entry fee.
Until last year, when I noticed that Romance Writers of America was holding a contest looking for new, unpublished YA authors. There were different YA categories, each judged separately. I was intrigued. Then at the bottom of the page I saw the catch—a $25 entry fee. Normally, that would’ve been a deal breaker, but for some reason, I went ahead and paid the fee and entered Flight of the Wren as YA Paranormal. Among the list of judges for that category was Justyn Perry of Lycaon Press. I’d never heard of them. When I looked them up online, I discovered that they were open to unagented submissions. Bonus! Based on their website it seemed like another novel of mine called Spark might be a good match, so I submitted it. About six weeks later, I heard back. Yes. They would be happy to publish Spark. Bliss!
In the meantime, I got a response from the RWA contest. I didn’t win, but the responses were very intriguing. Out of three judges, I got one mediocre response, one good response, and one great response. I mean really great. Like 172 out of 175 possible points great. The final comment:
“I don’t really know what else to say—if the rest of the story is as polished and expertly told as this entry is, then I hope you’re submitting it or getting ready to publish it—whichever path you choose, this story is wonderful and deserves a wide audience! I especially like the understated humor and the “just right” amount of description. Best of luck to you with this!!!”
One of the judges, all of who were agents and publishers, really liked my book!
Unfortunately I couldn’t tell which one. The reviews were anonymous. I checked the panel of judges. There was an editor at Harlequin, an agent for some New York agency I wasn’t familiar with, and Justyn Perry at Lycaon. No problem, I would just try all three.
Since I was already doing the edits for Spark with Lycaon, I decided to try the other two first. They both rejected me in a very form-letter kind of way.
No big deal. That just meant the glowing review had to have come from Justyn. I sent him an email. He said my description sounded kind of familiar but he wasn’t sure. Could I send him a synopsis? I did. He replied a week or so later saying, no, he was positive he didn’t read the book in the RWA contest, but he was interested. Could I send him the whole manuscript? I did, of course, and Lycaon wrote back saying yes, absolutely, they’d love to publish it. Even more bliss!
So do I have any actual advice for writers here? Maybe this one thing: don’t cling too tightly to your own preconceptions. If I’d stuck to my rule about never applying to any contest that had an entry fee, I never would’ve entered the RWA contest, and I might never have found Lycaon Press. In all likelihood, I’d still be unpublished and looking for my first break. So take a chance now and then. Go outside your comfort zone. Something good might happen. It did for me.
There is one thing that still bothers me, though. Who did write that review?