Debut Dagger Tips: Kristina Stanley
Prepare to be deeply jealous when you find out the circumstances in which Kristina Stanley penned her Debut Dagger shortlisted novel, Blaze. However, despite a deeply glamourous writing story, the Canadian newcomer faced the same struggle as all other would-be authors as she approached getting published. Here Kristina explains how getting on the Debut Dagger shortlist changed everything, and why she thinks it’s a brilliant gateway for writers to get their work noticed.
What made you decide to enter Blaze in for the 2014 Debut Dagger competition?
It was because of the prestige of the Debut Dagger and the CWA. Like everyone else, I thought I didn’t have a chance but I submitted it anyway (it was called Burnt at the time) and crossed my fingers. I thought the award was a way to raise my visibility to publishers and that was my big goal. I understood that I could self-publish but I believed that getting a professional editor, proof reader and book cover would make my book better.
Where did you write Blaze?
I was very lucky because in 2009 my husband and I left our jobs at a ski resort in British Columbia, Canada and bought a sail boat. We spent five years sailing around the Bahamas, during which time I wrote four novels. I used to sit backwards on the boat when we were anchored somewhere and write.
What was the best part of writing in such a wonderful setting?
I think the best part about it as a writer was that there was no internet connection and no phones. And so you spent a lot of time without being connected to anything so you just write. So you save up your internet and phone stuff for when you’re in an area where you can use it and so it gives you absolute quiet, time to sit down and write without everything interrupting you and I think that’s huge.
How did you feel when you found out you’d been shortlisted?
I just about fainted! I couldn’t believe it. I was doing yoga with some friends on the beach that morning so we had a celebratory yoga session! It was a huge moment because you don’t actually think that you’re going to make the shortlist? It’s such a big dream. I just started writing in 2009 and to have that happen in 2014 was so far beyond what I thought was going to happen. It was really motivating and it means that somebody else out, a complete stranger, a professional in the industry, is saying ‘Okay, that’s not bad’. It’s exciting as a writer that it’s kind of an outside validation to ‘keep going and doing that.’
So what was the effect on your writing following the shortlist announcement?
All of a sudden I had publishers interested in me! My theory is that awards of that status are really cutting through the slush pile so the publisher doesn’t have to. And I think they just go and look every year to see who is on the list and then talk to them. So I recommend to all my writer friends who are a little bit behind me in the process, put your books in for the awards because it’s one way for a publisher to notice that someone else has vetted you.
What advice would you give debut authors before they submit their work?
I’d say get it edited and proofread. That was great advice that I’d had before I submitted to the Debut Dagger. I didn’t want a typo in there. I wanted to be sure that somebody was not going to go ‘Ah look, there’s a mistake in the first paragraph!’ I think even if you can’t afford to have a full editor, go with someone who’ll do a few pages or even a friend who’s a teacher, anything to get some outside input that your submission is up to quality. The other thing you get from the Debut Dagger is feedback on how to improve your work. That’s great! You take that and you get shortlisted and then you can resubmit to publishers, you can work on your manuscript from that feedback and make it better before it goes to the publishers.
How did your publishing deal come about?
I’m with Imajin Books, they’re a Canadian publisher, and they weren’t actually one of the publishers that approached me. I read a book by the CEO of the company, Cheryl Kaye Tardif, and liked it. I thought ‘That’s kind of how I write, who publishes her?’ But it was Imajin – and Cheryl owns the company! The very first sentence in my query letter was ‘Blaze was shortlisted for the Debut Dagger’ and then I went from there. I submitted it, and within two weeks I had a two book deal with them. That was in March 2015 and then Descent, the first book in my series, was published in July and Blaze was published in October.
What’s that experience been like for you?
It’s crazy! Descent already hit number one in the Women Sleuths section on Amazon so that was a pretty big deal.Then Blaze followed out in October so I’ve been pretty happy with my sales. There’s much more marketing than I thought, I spend a lot of time on social networking but it’s tremendously exciting to have two books out in one year. I’m just in negotiations with the same publisher for a third one and they’ve also asked me to write a non-fiction book about book marketing for them. So it turned out that I have a very good relationship with them! So I’m hoping that I’ll get the third in the series out, maybe July, and the non-fiction maybe sometime around that same time frame. And if I can I’m going to squash in a fourth in the series, but I’m not a hundred per cent sure. My husband keeps saying ‘You’d better get writing! What are you doing?’