Thursday, March 31, 2011

Question from a Writer - Contests

My question to you is about entering writing contests. I entered a manuscript to the [insert name of contest] and I received a Certificate is Merit. It states For Outstanding Achievement in Writing the Manuscript. My question is will this help get the manuscript accepted by an agent or is this just what the book company does so that they will get your business and pay them to publish your book. Contest wins are an interesting thing when it comes to agents and there really isn't a yes or no answer to this. Bear with me as this might seem a bit rambling. First of all, it is always important when querying an agent or editor to state the signficant wins you had with a manuscript. Obviously some have a bit more merit than others, but this is due to the number of entries and certainly the level of competition that is normally seen in the contest. Seeing that someone is getting great feedback from outside readers is always important. With that said, we also understand how contests work. Stories that make the finals and win a 1st, 2nd or 3rd simply means...

  • This story was the best of what was entered.

  • This story escaped getting a preliminary judge that might have tanked something else that was better.

There have been times that I, along with other agents, have judged contests where the final round manuscripts were only earning points no higher than a 70%. As a final round judge, we have to decide who was the best from that group. Honestly, if 70% is the best you have, that doesn't say much.

Contest wins don't necessarily sway us one way or another and it certainly is not going to be a factor for us to buy the project.

The second portion of your question is the one that sort of concerns me

...or is this just what the book company does so that they will get your business and pay them to publish your book. From your description, I would really start to question the merit of the competition. Entering something in a contest run by a publisher that would have a reputation of doing what you describe seems to me as a silly move by an author. Obviously, I would have to know more of the details, but from what you said, it sounds like this is simply a vanity press that is drumming up business. I would hope that after you win a contest such as this, you aren't obligated to publish your story with them. We have to remember several things about contests:

  • contests are generally fund raisers for chapters.

  • writers enter contests in the hope to get quality feedback.

  • writers enter contests in the hope that it will get to an editor or agent that might request the project.

  • the quality of a contest is always dependent on the quality of the preliminary judges and their knowledge of the genre.

  • the quality of a contest is always dependent on a judging criteria that is clear and very objective while not favoring one genre over another.

Hope this helps!


  1. Excellent post. Unfortunately, there are many vultures circling for unsuspecting writers in the guise of writing contests. Thanks for the clear direction on what to expect from contests.

  2. Interesting post. I've wondered how vanity presses get your name. I'm hounded by a few. Luckily, I know better.

  3. Contests can lead to an offer of representation. I'm proof.

    I'm a romance writer and entered a number of contests run by different chapters of Romance Writers of America. My entry did well, making it to the final round in several contests where it was seen by editors and agents, some of whom requested the full. I sent it to two agents and 24 hours later received an email from the awesome agent who went on to sell by debut novel.

    I think the key is choosing which contests to enter. RWA has a great reputation, so I knew the contests would be well run.

  4. Thank you very much for your answer. It is so exciting when you someone notices you, but on the other hand, it is heart wrenching when they want to publish your manuscript and they want so much money to do it. Like Kela said it is important on choosing a contest with a good reputation. :)