What happens after you are shortlisted – or even win – the Debut Dagger or the Unhanged Arthur? Will you finally get published? The answer, based on my personal experience and that of my friends, is definitely YES.
That said, your journey to publication may still be a long and arduous one. Mine certainly was. After countless near-misses and setbacks, my novel, re-titled Windigo Fire, will be published by Seraphim Editions this fall. It was a DD finalist in 2009 under its original title, The Land of Sun and Fun, which makes it five years from short-list to publication.
My advice to aspiring writers is to rely on three C’s: Confidence, Commitment and Courage.
First of all, being short-listed for the Debut Dagger or the Unhanged Arthur should give you Confidence in your writing. Your entry has topped dozens, if not hundreds, of others. For example, in 2009, the year I entered, the Debut Dagger received 800 entries. The following year, when my friend, Mme Rosemary McCracken was short-listed even more writers gave it a try.
One of the benefits of the DD is that The Crime Writers Association circulates all short-listed entries to agents. One or more agents may then contact you directly. Or if you decide to attend the Harrogate conference in person, you may meet agents more informally. Louise Penny literally bumped into her future agent in the buffet line. Other DD finalists never find an agent this way, or indeed at all, but this did not prevent them from getting published.
To be published by a large, well-known company like Penguin or Random House, you must have an agent. But signing on with an agent is only the first step. There is no guarantee that your agent will manage to sell your book or even to take interest in your work. A friend of mine only learned by chance that her agent had retired – without telling her clients! If you are lucky, your agent will love your work and fight like mad to ensure it gets published.
In the end, I had far more success by approaching publishers directly. And, yes, I believe that being a finalist for DD and the UA certainly helped to open the door. Just the same, I really had to rely on the second “c”: Commitment. It meant carefully studying the submission guidelines on publishers’ websites and sending my manuscript out, while tempering patience with practicality. Many publishers are overwhelmed and take a long time to get back to authors, if at all. It’s even more disheartening to lose time through “near-misses”.
That is why writers need the third “c”, Courage, most of all. It means weathering rejections and sending that manuscript out again and again. Still, when Seraphim accepted my book, I had to read and re-read their email to convince myself I wasn’t dreaming. And I keep a framed copy of that email in my office to inspire me.