You have to be in it to win it – Kathy Jay

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By Kathy Jay

I nearly wrote off writing competitions and I’m so glad I didn’t! Reach for the Stars is out now. It’s the second book in my contract with HarperCollins’ imprint HarperImpulse; a contract I was over the moon about winning in a writing competition. ♥

Here’s the thing – I almost didn’t enter! It’s easy to feel that entering a writing competition might be a waste of time. But success in a competition is nowhere near as remote a possibility as, say, a win on a lottery ticket.

The first competition I placed in appeared in Woman’s Weekly magazine. In partnership with publishers Mills and Boon, it had the tag line, “Could you be the next big name in romance?” They wanted short, contemporary romance stories. The first prize included, alongside a laptop and a year’s book subscription, a consultation with an editor! I gave it a go. Four months later a letter arrived congratulating me on being a runner-up. I’d won a year’s supply of romance novels (yay!) and my story appeared on the Mills and Boon website.

The success spurred me on. It encouraged me to keep writing. I submitted a manuscript, waited, and got a rejection letter. I went to a couple of workshops, entered another romantic short story competition and got a “Special Mention” in another magazine. I hoped it was a sign that I was doing something right. So I kept going, always looking out for writing opportunities, pitches, and competitions. Twice I entered “First Chapter” contests, but my luck seemed to have run out. It didn’t feel like competitions were leading anywhere.

So when HarperImpulse announced a competition to submit a full manuscript I was uncertain. I had joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association and revised a contemporary romance, following the advice of my New Writers’ Scheme reader. The prospect of winning a publishing contract was too good to resist. I had nothing to lose. I hummed and hawed and faffed up until the last minute, but as the midnight deadline approached I finally pressed “Send”.

When I got “the Call” from the editor saying she’d like to publish my book I was practically dumbstruck. She invited me for afternoon tea at Fortnum and Mason, part of the fabulous prize. Going to meet the editors was a little nail-biting. I felt a bit like a country bumpkin travelling up to London from the Cheshire village I lived in at the time. I needn’t have worried. The editors couldn’t have been lovelier.

Of course, winning was just the beginning. There was a revision letter, and lots of work to do, followed by the excitement of a cover reveal and a publication day. HarperImpulse is a digital first publisher so What If He’s The One came out as an ebook. A few months later a copy of the paperback popped through the letterbox. Holding the book in my hands and reading the words I wrote was, and still is, a weird and wonderful feeling.

The best thing about competitions is that they are a fast track to getting your writing read by editors and agents and publishers. So next time there’s a contract up for grabs and you’ve got a submission that’s a good fit for the guidelines, I’d recommend having a go. Somebody’s got to win. It could be you. Good luck!

Kathy Jay lives in Cambridgeshire with her family, which includes a large dog and a cute cat. Kathy started writing her first romance on a vintage typewriter, although writing got put on hold while she studied Drama and French at university. Kathy has been a bilingual PA and a stay-at-home mum. She’s a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, and thrilled to write feel-good romance for HarperImpulse.


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