POETS & WRITERS IS MORE than a magazine. We are a nonprofit organization that pays fees to writers participating in literary events, helps authors connect with one another, and provides information on how to publish. We also sponsor a number of awards and prizes. Your subscription to Poets & Writers Magazine supports this important work.
A Winning Exchange
In February Elaine Beale's debut novel, Another Life Altogether, was published by Spiegel & Grau. Beale was the 2007 fiction winner of the California Writers Exchange Award, given every three years to a California writer. We asked Beale to share the story of how winning the award helped get her new book published.
| The Numbers Behind
the California Writers
of poetry entrants
each year: 694
| Average number
of fiction entrants
each year: 614
|Number of days the
winners spend in
New York City: 7
|Number of literary
2007 winners met
|Number of writers
who have won
the award: 6
|Number of winners
who have published
books since winning
the award: 3
My answering machine had been blinking all evening. It had been a long day, filled with work-related phone calls, and I was avoiding dealing with yet one more message. But before going to bed, I finally decided to listen and heard a voice explain that I was the winner of the Poets & Writers California Writers Exchange Award in fiction. Before the message was over, my partner, Suse, and I were jumping up and down. "What do you win?" Suse asked after I played it a second time to make certain we'd heard correctly. I wasn't exactly sure.
To enter the competition for the award, I had submitted a chapter of a novel I'd been working on for years. Progress had been interrupted by illness, the sudden death of my mother, and my own self-doubt. The manuscript sat, untended, on my computer for a long, long time. Although it was a book I felt I absolutely had to write, I'd come to believe that I might never finish it. I'd begun to wonder if it was any good at all. So, when I learned that I'd won the contest, the prize itself didn't seem that important. What mattered was the enormous boost to my confidence. Apparently I wasn't the only one who thought my first chapter was worth reading. Suddenly, the idea of finishing the novel became a possibility again.
As it turned out, the prize was an all-expenses-paid trip to New York City to meet with writers and publishing professionals, as well as a public reading with poetry winner Larry Colker of our work. The staff in the West Coast office of Poets & Writers—Cheryl Klein and Jamie Asaye FitzGerald—explained that I could request meetings with specific agents, publishers, or writers. My job was to figure out whom I wanted to meet with; they would do the rest.
Ushered about Manhattan with Larry to lunches and dinners, I felt like a VIP. Among the people I'd requested to meet with was literary agent Eric Simonoff and Cindy Spiegel, publisher of the Random House imprint Spiegel & Grau, whom I'd identified as someone who'd published many writers I liked and admired during her tenure at Riverhead Books. During our meeting, Spiegel was enthusiastic about my contest entry and asked to see the rest of the manuscript.
After returning home, I sent her the two hundred pages I had. A few weeks later, she called saying she'd love to see the completed novel. This was in August 2007. Now with a fire under me, I wrote the remaining three hundred pages in ten months. I sent my draft to Spiegel in May 2008. When she got in touch in July to tell me that she wanted to publish it, I
called Simonoff and asked if he'd represent me. After he read the novel over the weekend, he told me that he would.
I'm immensely grateful for the way in which the Writers Exchange Award boosted me toward publication. More important, however, the experience helped me develop a much deeper commitment to my writing. Luck is always an ingredient in winning any competition. But luck is not something that can sustain a writing career. Instead, I have to rely on discipline and a steady belief in myself to overcome what may seem like insurmountable impasses in the work. Winning the award helped remind me of this.
For more information about prizes sponsored by Poets & Writers, visit www.pw.org/about-us.