Book Contests Part 1: Why Malice Pays Off

When I read Linda’s profile on Twitter last year, I noticed she’d won the contest I’d submitted my debut novel to. Impressive! So I tweeted a congratulatory message and we’ve stayed in touch ever since. I’m so pleased to share Linda’s story as she talks about winning, attending the conference, and why entering contests is something we should all do:

When Is Malice Something You Want in Your Life?

In the years leading up to 2010, I wrote, rewrote, and revised a mystery novel with a half-Cherokee protagonist named Skeet Bannion. I learned of a contest for first mystery novels and submitted my novel to this contest, called the St. Martin’s Press/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition.

After sending off the manuscript, I turned to other writing projects, as any sensible writer must. We constantly submit manuscripts, knowing the process will take a long time. If we send one thing at a time and sit around waiting to hear its fate, we shoot ourselves in the foot. With our attention on a new project or two, we don’t constantly count days, waylay the letter carrier, and become enraged at overworked and usually well-meaning editors. Many months later, therefore, the contest was completely out of my mind as I worked on several other projects and met some deadlines. In the past, I’d published a Mexican cookbook , still selling years later, and several books of award-winning poetry. I was writing grants for my poetry and pursuing freelance writing projects, as well as planning a new novel.

One day in early 2011, I checked my inbox and found an email from an unknown name with a subject line that read “malice.” I thought how weird spam was getting. My finger hovered over the delete key, but curiosity got the better of me. What kind of spam would have “malice” as its subject line? So, reader, I opened it.

That message was from one of the preliminary judges of the competition, letting me know she’d sent my manuscript on to the editors of St. Martin’s Press as a finalist in the contest—and that just being a finalist would probably be enough to get me an agent and possibly a publisher, even if I didn’t win. I shrieked a little and was terribly glad I’d not deleted that email. I didn’t expect to win, but I did think I might get a good agent out of the deal. That sounded great.

A month later, as I was about to leave town on a grant-funded research trip, I received a call from a St. Martin’s editor to tell me I’d won the competition and she would be my editor. I was dumbstruck at first. Then, I babbled incoherently. Fortunately, she didn’t hold either against me. She also informed me that St. Martin’s would pay for me to attend the national Malice Domestic Conference where the award would be announced. My feet didn’t actually touch the ground for days.

In a little more than another month, I flew to Bethesda to the Malice Domestic Conference, which I found everyone in the mystery field called simply “malice.” Thus was the strange subject line of that email finally explained. I knew no one at the Malice Domestic Conference. Two writers I knew were arriving a day and a half later than me, as was my editor. I was on my own at a conference where everyone knew everyone—but me. And I reverted to my natural shy, introverted state.

Monica Ferris, an established writer whose books I’d often enjoyed, sat beside me and took me under her wing, introducing me to people and showing me the ropes. Soon, other people were offering me the same kindness, and it wasn’t long before I felt at home. I enjoyed that first Malice Domestic tremendously. The panels and presentations were interesting and helpful. The events were fabulous. Most of all, the people of the mystery world were so welcoming and kind that I fell in love with it.

At the end of April 2012, I headed for Malice again. This time, my novel, Every Last Secret, had launched the day before in a wonderful event. It already had a lot of favorable reviews in all kinds of print journals and on book blogs. It was a Barnes & Noble mystery pick for April and had been chosen for discussion by a national book club. And this time I knew a bunch of mystery writers and readers that I’d met in the past year through various social media. I was also a panelist for one session and moderating another panel. Malice is the smallest of the three national conferences—Bouchercon, Thrillerfest, and Malice Domestic. It’s more the size of some of the larger regional events, such as Left Coast Crime. Malice Domestic is also the conference which awards the coveted Agatha Awards.

I think Malice is a great conference for anyone brand-new to the mystery conference scene, because it’s such a friendly, welcoming conference. It celebrates traditional mysteries, play-fair mysteries without excessive violence or explicit sex scenes. Lots of authors of traditional mysteries, cozy mysteries, mysteries with strong thriller or suspense elements, and even some romantic suspense attend, and all are terrifically accessible to fans. Many authors have told me they enjoy attending Malice because of that chance to interact with readers. I know I loved meeting folks who had already read and enjoyed my book.

Now, my second Skeet Bannion novel, Every Broken Trust, is wending its way to publication in April 2013. Once again, I have a gorgeous cover (which I’ll plaster all over the Internet as soon as I have permission), and I’m waiting on copy edits right now. I have had the immense pleasure of in-person conversations, emails, Facebook comments, blog comments, and tweets from people who’ve read Every Last Secret and can’t wait to read the next Skeet book. I’m writing a new mystery novel, and I must say I recommend putting a little Malice in your life.

Linda Rodriguez’s novel, Every Last Secret (Minotaur), won the Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition, was selected by Las Comadres National Book Club, and was a Barnes & Noble mystery pick. The second book in the Skeet Bannion series, Every Broken Trust, will be published in Spring 2013. Linda reads and writes everything, even award-winning books of poetry and a cookbook, and she spends too much time on Twitter. She blogs about writers, writing, and the absurdities of everyday life at LindaRodriguezWrites.blogspot.com.

… Molly again: I entered my Novel, Mark of the Loon, in the Malice Domestic contest the year Linda won. I wasn’t among the finalists, but I did receive a nice note saying “You need to contact agents and move this novel forward!” Although I chose not to pursue representation, that message kept me going and I self-published in May of 2012!

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26 Responses to Book Contests Part 1: Why Malice Pays Off

  1. Pamela Beason August 6, 2012 at 4:00 pm #

    Oh, that part about spam was frightening! Now I’m wondering if my email is tossing out valuable messages.

    Congratulations, Linda! I’m not sure if my mysteries would be really considered “traditional”–can traditional mysteries include cougars and gorillas? But the Malice Domestic conference sounds like a blast and I hope to make it there one of these days. I wish you the best of luck on your career and I’m going out to pick up your book right now.

    Thanks, Molly, for bringing us another interesting writer’s story!

    • Belinda Pollard August 6, 2012 at 5:29 pm #

      Hey Pamela, perhaps it depends whether the cougars and gorillas are conservatively dressed? ;-D (no loud florals or *ahem* animal prints)

      Can a mystery with people lost in the wilderness be “traditional” too? And can someone from the other side of the planet be involved?

      Love the sound of this!

      • Linda Rodriguez August 6, 2012 at 5:48 pm #

        Belinda, a mystery of people lost in the wilderness could well be considered a traditional mystery. It must play fair with the reader, not holding back information that the detective would use to solve it. And no excessive violence or sex scenes. If a murder occurs among a group lost in the wilderness, I would imagine it would up the stakes most gratifyingly. Agatha Christie often did things like that to isolate her people for the course of the murder.

        About the non-U.S. location, the competition rules say the contest is open to anyone, regardless of nationality. Check them out here.
        http://us.macmillan.com/Content.aspx?publisher=minotaurbooks&id=4933

        Good luck to both of you!!

        • Belinda Pollard August 6, 2012 at 6:26 pm #

          Agatha Christie is one of my all-time favourites, Linda. I still read her books… there are so many (70+) you can start again at the beginning when you finish and not remember the plot details too much. And I love her “country house” mysteries, where people are trapped with a murderer by snow or some other situation. “And Then There Were None” was one of the inspirations for my novel… the idea of people with a guilty secret. My violence is understated and my sex is rare and takes place offstage, so I seem to fit the category.

          Even Hitchcock knew it often works better when you don’t “see” everything.

          Oh, for a gentler age… ;-) (she says, as she thinks of another way to kill a character…)

          • Linda Rodriguez August 6, 2012 at 6:42 pm #

            Belinda, your book sounds perfect for the competition. The deadline’s in October. Submit!

    • Linda Rodriguez August 6, 2012 at 5:38 pm #

      Pamela, A winner of the competition about ten years ago was Donna Andrews for Murder With Peacocks. He mysteries are considered traditional and have included all kinds of bizarre wildlife. Traditional mysteries are not just the cozy mysteries, but also mysteries without tons of violence and gore and without explicit sex scenes. Doesn’t mean there’s no sex or violence. Just mostly offstage. Julia Spencer-Fleming’s first book, In the Bleak Midwinter, was the first winner of this contest–and as her readers know, sexual tension abounds in her books and violence occurs but is not dwelt on in great, loving detail.

      • Molly Greene August 6, 2012 at 6:06 pm #

        Pam’s traditionally published too, Linda, and her books are GREAT! I’ve read them all and am looking forward to the next.

        • Linda Rodriguez August 6, 2012 at 6:27 pm #

          Oh, in that case, Pam, you can’t enter the competition. It’s only open to people who’ve not had a novel published before. :-(

  2. Linda Rodriguez August 6, 2012 at 6:44 pm #

    Also, I encourage folks to submit to these competitions (there are 4, of which Malice is one) because St. Martin’s is a great publishing house to work with.

    • Molly Greene August 7, 2012 at 6:50 am #

      Linda, can self-published authors still enter Malice?

      • Linda Rodriguez August 7, 2012 at 7:08 am #

        Molly, you’d have to check with St. Martin’s. I don’t think so–unless it wasn’t a novel. I believe it was designed strictly for those who were unpublished in novel form. For example, I had already had a cookbook and two award-winning books of poetry published but no novels.

        • Belinda Pollard August 7, 2012 at 1:04 pm #

          Actually it seems that you can. This information is in the link Linda provided:
          The Competition is open to any writer, regardless of nationality, aged 18 or older, who has never been the author of any Published Novel (in any genre), as defined by the guidelines below, (except that authors of self-published works only may enter, as long as the manuscript submitted is not the self-published work) and is not under contract with a publisher for publication of a novel.

          So it seems you can enter your next novel, Molly. :-)

          • Molly Greene August 7, 2012 at 1:14 pm #

            We can both enter! Thanks for that, Belinda.

          • Linda Rodriguez August 7, 2012 at 2:37 pm #

            Oh, great, Belinda! That’s why I said to check with St. Martin’s because I’ve not read all the fine print. So I’m glad you and Molly can enter your next books.

  3. Victoria Grefer August 7, 2012 at 7:59 am #

    What a great post. Linda and Molly, seems like you were both winners!

    • Linda Rodriguez August 7, 2012 at 8:18 am #

      Thanks so much, Victoria! I’m glad you enjoyed the post, and you’re absolutely right–Molly’s friendship is yet another gift the competition brought me.

      • Molly Greene August 7, 2012 at 8:56 am #

        Ohhhh! Thank you both. I think it’s the power of Twitter. I have met amazing people and I’m a better writer and person because of it!

  4. Sally Berneathy August 7, 2012 at 8:55 am #

    So true, Molly, that we have to submit one book and start on the next one immediately without knowing the fate of that first book.

    I’ve known Linda for 25 years, and have seen how hard she’s worked to become this “overnight success”!

    Loved Every Last Secret and can’t wait to read Every Broken Trust, and whatever book you’re working on now, Linda, because I know you are!

    • Linda Rodriguez August 7, 2012 at 10:54 am #

      Sally, thank you, darlin’. Sally has had something like 17 wonderful romance and mystery novels published by various traditional publishers. She’s taken the plunge into the indie publishing world now herself. Her books are mostly laugh-out-loud funny. She’s got that sure touch with comedy that’s so rare.

  5. Laura Zera (@laurazera) August 7, 2012 at 11:40 am #

    Molly, thanks for introducing me to another great writer! And Linda, having just attended my first writers conference last month, I think that conferences in general are a great investment for a writer to make in their career. Plus, it was a total blast!

    • Linda Rodriguez August 7, 2012 at 11:46 am #

      Laura, were you at Thrillerfest? I so wanted to go to that, but couldn’t manage Malice, T’fest, and Bouchercon all financially and timewise. Will you be at Bouchercon? If so, I hope to meet you in person.

  6. C. Lee McKenzie August 13, 2012 at 1:17 pm #

    What a wonderful story. I’m so glad I followed the link over to your blog today, Molly. You just became a new follower on Twitter.

    I also loved learning how you two met. It’s amazing how these “accidental” connections often turn into long-term writer friendships.

    • Molly Greene August 13, 2012 at 1:30 pm #

      Happy to meet you, and so glad you liked the post! Linda’s story is inspirational!

    • Linda Rodriguez August 13, 2012 at 4:21 pm #

      Lee, so glad you enjoyed the blog. I think you’ll find that Molly usually has some great posts here.

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