Friday Speak Out!: Beating the System, Guest post by Tricia Fields

Friday, June 14, 2013
I was putting my coat on to leave for an afternoon meeting at my day job when I felt my cell phone buzz in my pocket. I answered on the way out the door, puzzled at the New York number that showed on the screen. A man introduced himself as Peter Joseph, editor at St. Martin’s Press. He asked if I had placed my novel. My heart pounded, my knees grew weak; I literally could have sunk to the ground.

Just a week prior, I had received agent rejection letter/email number twenty-six. I had just told my husband that it was time for me to move on to the next project. While rejection always stings, I’d come to accept it on some level, and to make the most of it. Taking the time to understand what didn’t work in each of my books that weren’t published was probably more important than knowing what did work. I also truly believed that if I stuck with it, eventually I would be ready for publication. This is all part of the process, became my mantra. Good things come to those who wait – right?

My persistence and faith paid off. I signed a contract with St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne Books in 2010, and I’m now working on the fourth book in the mystery series. After I signed the publishing contract, finding an agent was easy. I even had several producers contact me about movie rights. And, I couldn’t help thinking: I’m the same writer I was last year when I couldn’t get beyond a generic email response from an agent on overload! With that said, I’ll share my best piece of advice for those who have a manuscript bookstore-ready.

Investigate writing contests. I was searching for a good mystery conference when I came across Wordharvest (, a well-respected writing conference that takes place each November in New Mexico. The conference also sponsors the “Tony Hillerman Award for Best First Mystery.” The award includes a publishing contract with St. Martins and a $10,000 advance. When I won the award for my book, The Territory, I receive far more than the publishing contract. I received the support and publicity that comes with a high-profile award.

The beauty of entering a contest is that it narrows the field. Research the internet to find a contest that fits your genre. You’re not sending a generic one page letter hoping someone will connect – you’ll be sending your novel to a genre-specific contest which will get you a guaranteed read by an expert in the industry. But do your homework. Read other books that have won the prize to better understand what the judges are looking for. And, make sure to follow contest guidelines to the letter. Polish your manuscript and send it along. You may get the best phone call of your life!

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Tricia Fields’ newest mystery, Scratchgravel Road, featuring Chief of Police, Josie Gray, was released in March 2013. Her first book, The Territory, won the Tony Hillerman Award for best first mystery. Fields lives in a log cabin on a small farm in Liberty with her husband, an Indiana State Police Investigator, and her two daughters. More information at

Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!



Margo Dill said...

This is an amazing story and great advice. Congratulations, Tricia, and now it's time to start investigating those writing contests for middle-grade mysteries. That's the next thing I'm trying to get out there. :)

Unknown said...

All of my recent publications have happened because of winning writing contests! 2003, my poetry collection, "Mythmaking," a winner of Word Journal Poetry Chapbook Contest (published in Word Press, 2004); 2011, winner of Swyers Publishing's First New Author (fiction) Contest, my first mystery, "Mother, Murder and Me" (published in 2012); and just recently, "Halley and Me," a coming-of-age novella, winner of the 2012 Grassic Short Novel Prize, will be published 2013 by
Evening Street Press. So-- contests have been good to me!
Sandy Gardner

Unknown said...

That's so inspiring, congratulations!

LuAnn Schindler said...

Persistance!! It's the name of the writing game. :) Thanks for sharing your encouraging story.

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