The Eleanor Taylor Bland Award: Giving a Voice to an Underrepresented Community

Mia P. Manansala, winner of the 2018 Eleanor Taylor Bland Crime Fiction Writers of Color Award, shares how winning the award has transformed her writing career. Submissions for the 2020 grant are open now—read on to find out about eligibility and how to apply!

It’s that time again! From March 16 – June 22, 2020, Sisters in Crime is accepting applications for the Eleanor Taylor Bland Crime Fiction Writers of Color Award.

Sisters in Crime is a wonderful organization that continues its mission to not only advance the career of women crime writers, but also serve as the voice for excellence and diversity in crime writing.

One of the many ways they do this is by offering the annual Eleanor Taylor Bland Crime Fiction Writers of Color Award (often abbreviated as the ETBA). It’s an annual grant of $2,000 for an emerging writer of color, meant to support and further the education and career of writers of color who write mysteries, thrillers, suspense, and all the other wonderful subgenres that exist under the umbrella of “crime fiction.”

I had the distinct honor of being named the 2018 recipient of the ETBA and wrote an article for Criminal Element about what the award meant to me and why I feel writing characters of color are so important. Not only that, but those opening pages became the manuscript that landed me a 3-book deal with Berkley/Penguin Random House earlier this year.

While this award does not in any way guarantee a book deal, there are other ways it can have a huge impact on your writing career and I’m going to focus on two of them: money and name recognition.

Let’s be honest: this business we call writing can be expensive in so many ways. Workshops, classes, craft books, conferences and conventions, writing software, professional websites, business cards, etc. Are any of these absolutely necessary to make it as a writer? No. Do they help? You best believe they do.

Let’s start with something as basic as the opportunity to improve our craft. As authors, we’re always looking to hone our skills and become better writers. Obvious, right? But in my hometown of Chicago, the cheapest single-session, in-person classes I’ve found are at least $50. For many of you, that’s an easy and worthwhile expense, but early in my career, it meant choosing between one writing class or groceries for the week.

Thanks to this grant, I was able to take an online Guppy class (another fantastic offering from Sisters in Crime) to learn more about the proper protocol of crime scene investigations, which greatly improved my manuscript. The grant also allowed me to sign up for several Master Classes—including one with the G.O.A.T, Sara Paretsky—without having to dip into my (non-existent) savings.

OK, that’s a little dire, you say, but you don’t have to take classes to be a better writer. You can read widely in your genre, join a writers group, do manuscript swaps, find beta readers. One of the biggest draws of the crime fiction world is the community, so take advantage of it.

All of which is great advice, by the way. But for the newbie writer, how does one go about doing that? When you’re first starting out, it’s amazing all the things you don’t know and don’t think to ask (Example: Query letter? What’s that?). If you’re lucky, you live in a place that has local writers groups and branches of organizations like Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. If not?

Well, this brings me to the second greatest part about winning the award: name recognition.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying this award gets you celebrity status (most of you reading this have never even heard of me), but it does get you attention and can help when networking.

Wait a minute, Mia, you might say. I’m an introvert. I hate networking and being in the public eye. How could that possibly be a good thing? And I’m right there with you. But you know what? It’s such a crucial part of being a writer.

Why? People can’t offer you work if they don’t know who you are.

Because of the publicity this grant brought, editors were contacting my agent to ask about my work. I didn’t receive a book deal until February 2020, yet in between winning the award and that book deal, I’ve been asked to sit on panels and committees, lead workshops, submit to anthologies, read at live events, and judge contests in addition to my writing.

Some of this is unpaid work, that’s true. But I believe in paying it forward. This award and my community have done so much for me, it’s only natural for me to step up and do what I can. It also helps in building a resume that leads not only to paid gigs but leadership roles. And that’s the true beauty of an award like this—it gives a voice to those who rarely get to speak for themselves.

Because of the ETBA, I get to contribute to the discussion, make decisions that affect the community, and uplift the work of those who are so often ignored: on award lists, by traditional publications, and even by their own marketing teams.

Basically, this grant brought me both knowledge and power. So what are you waiting for? We need your words. We need your voice in the community. You’re one of us, so don’t let anyone tell you different. If you’ve been looking for your writing community and haven’t been able to find it, join us over at Crime Writers of Color.

And remember: DON’T SELF-REJECT.

More on the Eleanor Taylor Bland Award.

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