Tuesday, January 5, 2010

This Agent's Perspective on Awards and Contests

To begin with, I am not out to slam all awards and contests. I do believe there is certainly a need and place for these in the area of writing and publishing. With that said though, as an agent, I have a slightly different twist to these. For those of you depressed by the prior posting about the odds of getting published, let's start on the positive side.

I love awards! I love getting awards! I love recongnition! I love when I am honored for something. Heck! Give me an award any time. I even have a list of awards that some day, I would love to be nominated for and eventually win! Why? Because we all need to feel good about what we do. We all need to have someone, every now and then, pat us on the back and say good job. I have to be honest. When I left teaching at the K-12 level, I was able to do so because no one told me I was missed. What is frustrating is that after I "officially" left, the principal (and even my prior adminstrators) told me I was one of the best things that happened to their school. Now, if they had told me that earlier, leaving might have been a different story.

Writing is the same way. We love submitting a story and then someone saying your story was the best. When we get something published, we want to see those 4 and 5 Star Reviews. It makes us feel dang good about what we do and certainly gets us typing even faster to have a repeat performance. But...

We always have to remember that awards and contests are subjective. Some forms of recognition are simply based on sales and that is it. Sell a lot and get recognized. It doesn't mean your book is good, it simply meant people bought it. Let me give you a quick example of this. I have not bought Sarah Palin's book, not sure if I will since it really isn't the type of book I would read, but people have bought it like crazy. But here is the thing I find interesting. I have not heard yet of one critic out there that claimed the book was a block buster. TV, Radio, Internet... all have pretty much said there was nothing amazing about it. And yet people bought it. Get the idea?

Now let's take this from the side of the agent. I will get submissions all of the time from writers that list all of their awards they have received from their writing. This is good to put that in there. It shows what you have accomplished. It shows that you have been eager to get that writing out there for some potential critique. However (wow, I have used that word a lot today), receiving a 1st in a contest simply means you were the best of those that submitted. That's it.

As an agent, I love judging contests for writing chapters. I do request full manuscripts from stories that are REALLY good. I also provide critiques to the writers that make it to the finals. I don't simply give a ranking and call it quits. Writers enter contests for feedback and I want to provide it to them! Yes, Contest Coordinators. Contact me and I will judge! But, with that said, I have sometimes been very frustrated seeing the submissions. I ask, "was this really the best out there?" Still I give a 1st, 2nd and 3rd, even though I have to believe something better might be out there.

As an agent, I also look at many contests out there and see the problems and the flaws:
  • Contests with little or no criteria to judge the writing. Did you like it is not enough.
  • Contests that allow the subjectivity of the judge to play too big of a role. This happens more published author contests. Sending a judge a stack of books is too subjective. "Hey I got so and so's book. They're really good." or, "Oh, they sent me something from this publisher, they don't produce strong books."
  • Contests with people not qualified to judge. We see the same thing on those TV shows with celebrity judges. Do they really know anything about singing? An unpublished author that can't get someone to read his or her manuscript is reading your story?

In other words, I have to take a lot of these awards with a grain of salt. I understand the variables that went into winning the awards. I also understand that it may or may not tell me anything about your writing.

Again, please understand, I am not someone that is anti-contests or anti-awards. Just understand in a query letter, it will not be the deciding factor for me as to whether or not I will buy your story.


P.S. And don't forget, I love those awards and being recognized. Nominate me all you want! I promise I won't mind.

P.P.S And contest coordinators, yes, I do judge and love it!

1 comment:

  1. Great post.

    You're right, contests/judging can be subjective. One might love it, the other hate it and thrash it to shreds.

    I've witnessed both, having entered a few contests, but I take all the advice to heart anyway and see how I can improve my projects.

    I'll keep you in mind as a judge for the next contest I coordinate!!