Tuesday, July 01, 2008

ACFW~Where is all began for me~after ten years

I’m going back to ACFW, the place where I believe I found the combination of contests, critiques, community and connections to get published.

I started entering contests almost as soon as I got my first book finished and I credit contests with leading me to publication. It was the Noble Theme Contest sponsored by ACFW that was a huge piece of the puzzle I was trying to assemble.There are a countless number of writer’s contests, did you know that? I did well, placed third in the first contest I entered. I was encouraged and I kept doing better as the years went by. The contests are critiqued by the judges and I learned a lot from those critiques. Also if you are a finalist, you get judged again. This time, by editors and agents. So this is a chance to get your work in front of people who might buy your book or sign you as a client. There came a time when I expected to final in any contest I entered. If you Google Mary Connealy Contest Diva there’s a website with a list of people who’ve won a lot of contests and I’m on it. I kept track for the last two or three years before I got a contract and I’d finalled in eleven contests with five different books. I entered my manuscript Petticoat Ranch in ACFW’s Noble Theme contest in 2004. I was a double finalist, another book of mine, China Doll-now sold and re-titled Montana Rose, was in the running, too. When I heard I was a finalist, I decided to attend the 2004 conference. A member of my online critique group said I could room with her. I had never been on a plane before and I had never gone on vacation without my husband, Ivan, before. I don’t know if you can imagine the guts it took for me to go. Ivan, my husband, was great about it when I told him I wanted to go, spend all that money on my writing.When you think about it. Me, saying to Ivan, “Honey, I want to fly to Denver and spend three days in a hotel with someone I met on the internet…” Well, he was a pretty good sport about it.
Well, I won The Noble Theme contest and also placed third. I got a lot of requests at the conference to send in my book. I also got a really simple request from Cathy Marie Hake an author I didn’t know. She asked me to send her my first three chapters. She just wanted to see how I wrote. I also had an agent looking at my work before this conference. He hadn’t offered to represent me, but he had expressed interest. When I emailed him to tell him I’d won the contest and tell him I received about fifteen requests from agents and editors for maybe five different books, he offered me a contract, so I got an agent, which is almost as hard as getting a book sold. Cathy Marie Hake also kept in touch. She said she thought I was ‘ready’. No editor had yet seen that light, but Cathy’s encouragement kept me hoping. Plus, by this time, I had about twelve books written and I’d had so many rejections I had a hide like a rhino, so submitting work didn’t even faze me. (In the interest of full disclosure I believe I stole the 'hide like a rhino' line from Janet Dean, although it could be another Seeker. We're all tough...most of the time) Okay, well maybe I crawled under my computer desk and sucked my thumb for a day or two every time I got another rejection but other than that I was fine. Just before the next year’s conference, Cathy Marie Hake told me she wanted to pitch my name to write a book as part of a three book series set in historical Alaska. I worked on a proposal and talked on the phone with Cathy a lot before the 2005 conference. Every year at the conference the acquiring editor for Heartsong Presents gives a contract to an unpublished author. I was so hopeful! I knew there was a chance it could be me. The Heartsong editor said someone else’s name and there’s only one, so okay, I’ve been rejected before. I kind of expect it. And then she said, “And this year we’re giving two contracts to first time authors. We’re offering a contract to Mary Connealy.” I get chills saying that! It was a wonderful, thrilling shocking moment. I had to go up and get the contract, in front of 350 other writers, all clapping. A great, great moment in my life. And it happened as a direct result of contests, critiques, community, connections …well, ten years of hard work helped of course..and I gained those through ACFW.
Just a note. Some of these covers aren't finalized so there may be some changes but this is close to the final look they'll have.


Erica Vetsch said...

I wish I'd been there for that conference so I could've celebrated with you. This year, we can hang out together in Minneapolis and celebrate all your books. :)

Erica Vetsch said...

Oh, and congratulations on the release of Calico Canyon- TODAY!

Mary Connealy said...

Hi, Erica. Yes, I'm a believer in ACFW, no doubt about it.

Anonymous said...

So ACFW DENVER in 2009 will be your anniversary. And I was in Denver for ACFW 2004 ...oh wait I live here.

So we are going to celebrate big time next year. wooo hoo.

I might even sell a book for you, just to make it even more fun.

I love you book covers, btw, your true love of rodents really shines.

No honest they are very cool for meeces.