In 2001, word got around of a new children's book contest: the Tassy Walden Awards, New Voices in Children's Literature. It was juried by reputable agents and editors from large publishing houses, and winners were given a small cash prize. Why not, I thought.
My manuscript for a young adult novel came in as a finalist. I submitted a middle grade novel the following year, and that also came in as a finalist. Two years later I submitted a third novel, and that one didn't even place.
Now you'd think that would have soured me—three novels, three rejections. But it didn’t.
See, coming in as a finalist meant that the agents and editors who read my manuscripts thought they had promise. The criteria they were using was whether the submissions were of a professional quality. Winners were the best of the bunch—and some years they decided not to chose any winners because no one reached a high enough standard for the category. That I had placed two years in a row meant that I should keep going. That I didn’t place two years later meant I needed to put more work into what I was doing.
And more work is what I did. The result: one of the manuscripts that came in as a finalist became No Castles Here. The one that didn’t place at all became Come Fall. Both have received starred reviews, and I have a third novel ready for release in February, 2012.
The Tassy contest does something many contests don’t: it makes you step up to a publishable level. Winning doesn’t guarantee that what you write will be published, but submitting forces you to reach a professional standard. That is no small thing.
The 12th annual Tassy Walden Awards: New Voices in Children's Literature is now open for submissions. The competition is open to unpublished Connecticut writers and illustrators. This year has five submission categories: picture book (text only), illustrated picture book, children's book illustrator's portfolio, middle grade novel, and young adult/teen novel. The deadline for submissions is February 3, 2012.
For more information, an entry form, and the schedule for upcoming free workshops (these last are still being scheduled and will take place in another month or so) visit the Shoreline Arts Alliance website.
And for those of you wanting to write or illustrate books for young readers who happen to live in Connecticut—submit.