If I hadn’t by chance heard a tongue-in-check fifteen-second spot on the CBC Arts Report as I drove into work one day back in 2004, I never would have heard about the event that launched my writing career. It sounded like a joke to me at first. The London International Book Fair was holding a worldwide contest for wannabe writers. They were calling it Lit Idol.
Although I’d seen snippets of American Idol and its Canadian counterpart on TV, I’d steered clear for the most part. I had no appreciation that it was the British who’d come up with the original show, Pop Idol. The whole talent contest for singers idea just didn’t interest me. I didn’t even know who Simon Cowell was.
Still, I was intrigued enough by this peculiar writerly spin-off to check the Book Fair’s website. The entry fee wasn’t outlandish (only £10) and, more importantly, all they needed for a submission was the first 10,000 words of a novel and a two-page synopsis — which I pretty much already had. What did I have to lose?
Long story short, I was selected as one of five finalists out of nearly 1500 contestants, flew to England on my own dime, and was voted the winner by an audience of publishing professionals. What I won was representation from a literary agent and a huge amount of international buzz. A publishing deal with HarperCollinsCanada followed weeks later.
Pretty heady stuff for a writer who’d never seen his work in print.
Did I then vault into the pantheon of international best-selling authors? Did I enjoy the same rapid rise to stardom as American Idol winners? Well, no.
What Lit Idol gave me was a huge leg up. It attracted backing from a major publishing house for a book I’d yet to finish, something unheard of for an unknown writer like myself. I gave me a platform to find an appreciative readership. Several years later, people still eagerly ask me when my next book is coming out. For that, I am mightily thankful.
The other thing Lit Idol gave me was a fascinating story to tell. During my week in England, I briefly lived an enchanted life, hobnobbing with media personalities and witnessing a side of London I would never have seen as a tourist.
It was a great ride. And it continues even today, albeit at a less dizzying pace.