Wednesday, December 15, 2010

On Contests and Agents and Editors

"You should enter that contest," I heard one writer tell another. "This will be a great chance for your work to get in the hands of and editor or agent.

Ahh, I love comments like this.

While this is certainly true, the path to that editor or agent is still a tough one because the author has failed to consider the fact that there are now other obstacles to over-come just to get to that prized final location.

Before going any further, I want to say that I love contests for writers. This is a great chance to get outside readers seeing your work and getting some critique you might not have heard before. As an agent, I too love these because we do find some gems out there. In fact, the last author I signed came from a contest. We sold her book to the editor she had been targeting. The funny part is that she still had a story in the contest circulation and her now editor ended up judging the final. Without knowing she was reading her new client, she ended up giving the first place prize to that author and requested a full. But, I digress.

I wanted to take the time to give you some insight from my perspective when it comes to judging contests.

A fellow colleague commented that contests didn't mean that much to her. In her eyes, when she saw that final round, all that said was it was the best of what was entered, not necessarily the best pieces of writing available. When we talked further about this, we both agreed that the gauntlet the writing had to travel didn't mean that the best story rose to the surface. If an author recieved preliminary judges that didn't know what they were looking for, or were especially critical, the best story might not make it.

In this case, I think of the Golden Heart and the Rita's. An author can have scores of 9's and 8's across the board, but if one judge tanks the story with a 5, the story is gone. Wow.

For myself, I do keep my hopes up. The last several contests I judged, I did request more material. I should note that if I don't like it, I don't request it just because it made it to the final round. See there is hope.

As for editors, I think we also have to remember that some editors just are not going to request anything because it is the policy of the publishing house. If that house only takes agented submissions, the story is going to have to be over the top amazing for the editor to want to pursue it.

I think the point I want to make here is simple. Don't make the contests bigger than what they are. These are a CHANCE...
  • to get some feedback from other readers
  • to add some substance to your bio
  • to maybe get a story in the eyes of an editor or agent
  • on those rare occasions to begin a dialogue with an editor or agent.

Contests are not a short cut to publishing.


  1. When I enter a contest, I always want to win. But, what I find more valuable is the chance for critique. Someone outside the normal channels that doesn't know me in some small way. Yes, it would be great to have the credit to add to a query - holy crackers, would it ever! The learning however never ceases to entice me.

  2. You lured me over here again. Boy, you're good at writing titles!

    I like what you're saying. It meshes with my personal take on contests. They're worth entering if we don't put all our hopes on winning or getting our book in front of an editor. Sometimes magic happens, and other times we get some useful feedback.