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What Winning TLC Pen Factor Meant to Me

So, this is all mine? I thought, scanning my list of prizes. I had just won TLC’s Pen Factor Competition 2019. In addition to winning a full manuscript assessment and two 1:1s with experts in the publishing industry, I’d won a one-year membership to a number of valuable organisations, such as Spread the Word and Royal Society of Literature. And that wasn’t even half of the prize.

Woah. This is way too much, I thought as I went down the list. But from what I now know from being a writer, you need all the help you can get. In this blog, I talk about how the Pen Factor prizes helped me along my journey to landing a two-book deal with Viking/Penguin.

1. It gave me inspiration

Now, I don’t know about you, but, every now and again, I procrastinate. All of a sudden, the pile of dishes looks more appealing than my manuscript. And since I’d won a one-year membership to Royal Society of Literature and could attend their events for free, I found a new way to use my time, and productively. Result! One of my highlights was listening to the legendary author Malorie Blackman reflect on her writing career and the TV adaption of her critically acclaimed novel, Noughts & Crosses. She also talked about how difficult it was breaking through as a Black writer back in the nineties, and I remember feeling inspired and hanging on to her every word. You see, I attended the event to get away from writing, and yet, all I wanted to do after was switch on my laptop and write. And that’s the great thing about these events: it gave me motivation…and a much-needed kick up the bum. 

2. It gave me encouragement

Before I got a book deal, I had been writing my novel for four years, and the only outside feedback I got was on chapter one. So, to get a full manuscript assessment from a professional reader and editor was a ‘writer’s dream’. Due to the timing of things, I ended up getting my editorial report after I got publisher, but the notes are still useful, especially now that I’m in the process of editing my manuscript.

In a ten-page report, I received feedback on everything from the narration arc of my story to the themes, characterisation, plot, pacing and my writing style. It was helpful to get an honest reaction to my story and to hear of the elements that worked and needed improving, and to be offered advice on how to make the story even better. For example, my reader loved Yinka, Where is your huzband? and described it as a life-affirming novel, but she felt like I could trim down the storylines. She encouraged me to consider cutting a few of the plot strands, which would then give me more space to add more nuance and detail to the side characters. And guess what? My editor at Viking said the same thing. Receiving this feedback earlier on, gave me a good insight into what a structural edit looks like. So, when my editor suggested taking out a plot line, I didn’t freak out because I saw it coming. And my novel is all the better as a result.

3. It gave me confidence

For a long time, I have been hesitant about using social media. Yeah, I had Facebook and Instagram accounts, but I hardly used them. I knew that part and parcel of being a published author requires putting yourself out there and engaging with different audiences; and in this day and age, social media is the best platform to do this on. And yet, I was terrified of this prospect. However, my thoughts on marketing myself as a writer completely changed when I had my mentoring sessions with the co-founder of Create Think Do. I realised that self-promotion and author branding were two different things, with the latter focusing on the values and causes that the author is passionate about. This made me see social media differently. I didn’t need to use it as a mouthpiece to shout about the things I’m doing, but rather, I could use it as a channel to have dialogue, provide inspiration and to even offer humour. Since then, I have joined Twitter (which was a big deal for me!) and I even do monthly videos to complement The Bookseller columns I co-write with my editor about my publishing journey. All in all, the Create Think Do mentoring sessions gave me confidence and permission to be myself on social media, and I’ve made valuable connections with readers and writers as a result.

So, as you can see, I won more than just the title of being the winner of TLC’s Pen Factor competition 2019. What I gained from the prizes were priceless: inspiration, encouragement and confidence. These are things I will hold onto throughout my career as a writer.

The TLC Pen Factor Writing Competition is currently open for submissions until 16th February 2021, and to be in with a chance of winning, you need a ticket to our Online Writers’ Day, which you can pick up here.

Lizzie Damilola Blackburn

Lizzie Damilola Blackburn won the TLC Pen Factor Writing Competition 2019 with her romantic comedy, Yinka, Where is your huzband? which will be out early 2022. The book follows Yinka, a thirty-one-year-old British-Nigerian woman living in South London, who sets out, aided by a spreadsheet and her best friend (and many interfering aunties), to find a date for her cousin’s wedding. She currently co-writes a monthly blog for The Bookseller documenting her journey to publication. You can follow her on Twitter @DamilolaLizzie.

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