Monday, January 23, 2012

The WILLA Literary Award

When I received an e-mail last August that I had won the WILLA Literary Award for Follow the Dream, I didn’t believe it. At first I thought it was telling me I was a finalist (which would have been wonderful in itself) and that I’d find out later. So I had to reread the letter several times before it finally sank in. I had WON! It took several weeks to come down from Cloud Nineteen.

This prestigious national award is given by the Women Writing the West organization in seven categories: Contemporary Fiction, Historical Fiction, Original Softcover, Creative Nonfiction, Scholarly Fiction, Poetry, and Children’s/Young Adult Fiction and Nonfiction. Each category has a winner and up to two finalists, who also receive award recognition at the organization’s annual fall conference. The WILLA recognizes outstanding literature featuring women’s stories set in the west.

Books published in the previous calendar year can be submitted by publishers or authors, and are read by groups of volunteers according to a set of rubrics set up by the WWW organization. The top five in each category are then judged by an independent panel of judges—librarians from around the U.S.

The WILLA is named in honor of Pulitzer Prize winner Willa Cather, who is known for her novels of the immigrant experience on the American frontier, including O Pioneers! (1913) and My √Āntonia (1918). She received the Pulitzer Prize in 1923 for One of Ours.

Winning this award is a huge honor for me and serves to validate my writing, that my hard work has been for a purpose. It also honors my rodeo-riding grandmother, on whom I have based my first two novels, Cowgirl Dreams (an EPIC Award Winner) and Follow the Dream. An award-winning book also helps with your marketing: it revives the book’s newsworthiness and it adds prestige. Readers and reviewers who perhaps were not interested in the subject matter before may express new interest in an award-winning book.

I encourage all authors to enter literary contests. You never know what may happen!

A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in Northwest Washington. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, has recently won the national WILLA Award. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series.

Bookmark and Share


  1. Congratulations Heidi! What a great achievement.


  2. That's great, Heidi, I can't believe I know two Willa-winning authors! (My friend Fern Hill won a few years ago in historical fiction for Charley's Choice). You didn't mention, but I went to the site and discovered you won for YA fiction, right? Congratulations!

  3. Hey, congratulations, Heidi. I entered a writing contest over at Indies unlimited and received zero out of 135 votes ... talk about a humbling experience.

  4. Congrats on winning the award. That is quite an honor and well-deserved. I have read and enjoyed Cowgirl Dreams.

  5. How proud you must be. Congratulations.

  6. Heidi, congratulations on winning the Willa Award. That's a big award.

  7. I've been on a Willa Award jury so I know how tough the competition is. It's a lot of pressure, knowing that our choices would go to an independent jury of librarians who made the final decisions. It's a big honor, Heidi. I'm embarrassed to admit I haven't read the book!

  8. Thank you all for your wishes. I appreciate it! If any of you live in the west while writing or if your write about the west (contemporary or historical) you are eligible to join Women Writing the West (men, too!) And if you have a woman character in the west, by all means, enter the contest. And good luck to you all!

  9. Congratulations. I've entered contests, finaled in several, and even won once or twice. I know how you feel. That's wonderful.


  10. Good going, Heidi!

    Morgan Mandel


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice.