As you know by now, the 2009 winner of the CWA Debut Dagger was Catherine O’Keefe with her novel The Pathologist. C.J. Harper was highly commended for Backdrop. Several of the short-listed authors have been approached by agents and either signed up, or invited to submit their manuscript when it is completed. This is what happened to Dorothy McIntosh who was short-listed in 2007. Dorothy contacted us this summer to let us know she’d just signed a three book deal, to commence with her Debut entry The Witch of Babylon. She was kind enough to share her thoughts on entering the Debut Dagger and the effect it had on her subsequent writing career. Here they are :
Outside the arts, it’s hard to think of any other profession where people toil willingly day after day, with little prospect of success, on the fragile hope that our words will somehow make it onto the printed page. Even the great Renaissance painters, whose patrons treated them little better than skilled carpenters and who were not permitted to sign their works, at least got paid.
I’m here to show you there’s a shining light at the end of the tunnel, in my case, due in many ways to the CWA Debut Dagger competition. Nothing compares with the thrill of opening that email message to learn you’ve been short listed for the Debut Dagger. Dreams do come true.
The synopsis and first 3000 words of my novel, The Witch of Babylon, an antiquities thriller about a New York art dealer caught up in the aftermath of the Baghdad Museum looting, was short listed in 2007.
Lots of midnight oil was burned preparing for the competition – reading and re-reading all the previous winning entries the CWA kindly posted and revising my submission more times than I could count. Friends and publishing professionals supplied critiques; close attention was paid to the guidance and guidelines. And I didn’t win.
That honour went to Alan Bradley, a wonderful guy, who won for The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. I’m happy to say he’s now a huge international success with legions of fans. His book will have been published in twenty-eight countries.
How often have we heard it said that, when it comes to getting your work noticed, being short listed is as good as winning? And also, that acquiring a good literary agent is almost as hard as finding a publisher? Both are true. The CWA circulates short listed candidates to agents and editors and I personally know of several writers who gained agents that way. I too, first met my current agent at the Dagger Awards dinner. She’s done a fabulous job of promoting The Witch and it’s now been sold to Penguin (Canada) as well as to Luebbe (Germany), Rizzoli (Italy) and Alnari (Serbia).
Here’s another story about a writer many of you likely know – Louise Penny. Louise’s first manuscript endured many rejections before she entered the Debut Dagger competition. Her entry achieved achieved the ‘highly commended’ category and, as a direct result, she found an agent. Today, Louise is a much loved and widely read author who has won many awards for her work. Her latest novel A Brutal Telling just debuted on the New York Times best seller list.
The Debut Dagger competition is highly regarded because it’s international in scope and its jurors are considered the top of their field in the industry. But winning isn’t everything. Nor is being short listed or long listed. The discipline of trying out, the learning curve, networking, helping hands you meet as you hone your craft, are rewarding in themselves. Opt to take the journey. You’ll find it worth every step.
To paraphrase Alan Bradley: “the CWA has played such a vital part in our success, it’s impossible to ever be grateful enough.”
The very best of luck to each one of you.