In addition to submitting my work to agents in the (probably futile) hope of eventually getting a publishing deal through that route, I’ve sent my novels to a handful of competitions.
The good thing about competitions is that you know that there is an actual possibility of getting published; that one person out of all the entries will actually make it into print. The odds are (massively) against me, of course, but they’re definitely no worse than when I submit to agents.
Last year I sent Tales of the Ancient Rabbits to the Chicken House competition. I have to admit, I was a bit a sad case when the day for the long list announcement came around, and I was on the Chicken House website hitting refresh over and over until the inevitable disappointment came.
This year, I’m giving the Chicken House competition a miss. The disappointment of missing out last year was one factor, but the other factor is the onerous nature of the submission guidelines. They expect the full printed manuscript, bound with an elastic band, in a cardboard wallet, with a postcard for acknowledgement. I don’t have a printer capable of getting through a novel-length print run, so I had to get a USB stick and take a PDF to a local copy shop. It took ages and cost a fortune. Even finding an elastic band of the right size was a pain. The first pack I bought had been on the shelves so long they snapped as soon as I tried to put them on my manuscript. As for blank postcards – I just couldn’t find anywhere that sold them any more, so I had to print my own onto card and cut it down to size. In this era of digital communication, it all just seemed so anachronistic.
Fortunately most competitions allow electronic entries these days.
This year, I’ve entered The Panopticon Papers in the Scholastic Montegrappa competition, which publishes its shortlist in a couple of weeks. I’ve also entered it in the Bloomsbury/National Literacy Trust competition, which won’t publish its shortlist until March next year. Being published by the prestigious Scholastic or Bloomsbury almost overshadows the prize money on offer: Scholastic published Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series, and Bloomsbury published J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books.
I’ve also written a novel specifically for the Great War Dundee Children’s Book Prize Competition, The Wreck of the Argyll, which announces its winner (no shortlist, it seems) in March next year. The competition is run in partnership with Cargo Publishing, an absolutely splendid independent Scottish publisher. They’ve got works by Mark Z. Danielewski and the incomparable Alasdair Gray in their catalogue. Tony Black’s The Last Tiger is on my To Be Read list, too. They’re a small publisher making a big impact.
Prize money would be nice. Getting published would be much nicer. Becoming a stable-mate to Pullman, Rowling or Alasdair Gray – now that would be priceless.