A Contest Win May Not Help You Get Published

If you are looking to be published, yes, DO enter contests.

But a contest win may not result in your book’s publication by a traditional publisher. Today I hope to help you become less frustrated and more understanding regarding some reasons why.

First of all, contests’ criteria don’t reflect all the requirements of publishers, nor should they. Most contests judge on such factors as grammar, compelling hook, character development, and story. This world exists outside of the constraints of a traditional publisher.

However, since agents and editors seek excellence in these areas, competitions are relevant and can be a great way to receive helpful feedback. A book can win a contest, but then editors and agents have other factors to consider, such as:

  • Word Count. Most contests don’t focus on word count. Yes, there can be calls for “long” or “short” entries, but these are usually for published books. An author can win an award, but an editor needing a 90,000-word book will not contract for a 40,000-word story. Authors revise and resubmit every day; but when you’re looking to be published, why not start with a book that fits the publisher’s guidelines for word count?
  • Judges Don’t Consider Category. Most contests allow the author to select the category to enter, which makes sense and should not change. However, many authors mislabel their genres. I’ve judged many an entry that didn’t fit the category, but still gave the entry high marks based on the contest’s criteria. However, when an author submits to agents and editors, a mislabeled manuscript shows shaky knowledge of the market. Please know that I won’t turn down a fantastic romantic suspense novel mislabeled as a contemporary romance, but why not be accurate from the start?
  • The winning entry may be a standout among a bunch of duds. I don’t mean to be harsh, but no contest boasts the same number of stellar entries each year. To cite another example, a horse that wins the Kentucky Derby one year might have won fifth place the previous year among faster horses. In any match, the pool of entries is a factor. Yes, the winning entry has been judged best out of that batch that year, and that’s always great. But there’s more.…
  • The world outside of the contest is colossal. You may be the hometown beauty queen; but regional level comes next, then state level, then national, and international. Small contests are like the hometown pageant. Yes, you want to tell everyone about your success; but know that traditional publishers seek to crown Miss Universe.

Your turn:

Have you ever been a contest judge? What did you learn?

What do you do when feedback from a contest seems harsh?

What have you learned from entering contests?

Which contests do you plan to enter this year? How did you choose?

Leave a Comment

This Agent’s Look Back at 2019

2019 was quite a year for me. I suppose it was a year for nearly everyone who made it from January 1 to December 31. In my case, however, it was a year of much change, stress, and some success. The bulk of the change (and stress) involved a long-planned …

Read More

Answers to Recent Questions from Clients

In the course of a normal work week—if any of my work weeks can be called “normal”—I get asked a question or two. Or fifty. And, while there are no stupid questions, or so I was told by my second-grade teacher, Mrs. Hoffmann, some questions prompt more illuminating answers than …

Read More

How Do You Measure Success?

by Steve Laube

A few years ago while talking to some editors they described an author who was never satisfied (not revealing the name of course). It this author’s latest book had sold 50,000 copies the author wondered why the publisher didn’t sell 60,000. And if it sold 60,000 why didn’t it sell 75,000? The author was constantly pushing for “more” and was incapable of celebrating any measure of success.

Recently there has been much ink spilled on whether Indie authors are better of than authors published by traditional publishers. Pundits have laid claim to their own definition of a successful book using number, charts, and revealed earnings. Following this dialogue can be rather exhausting.

I understand the desire to measure whether or not my efforts are successful. It is a natural instinct. If it is any indication, one of our most popular blog posts has been “What are Average Book Sales?” with thousands of readers.

In one way this is a wise question so that expectations can be realistic.

In another way it is unwise in that the cliff called “Comparison” is a precipitous one. I’ve talked to depressed authors who are wounded by numbers. I’ve talked to angry authors who are incensed by a perceived lack of effort by their publisher. I’ve talked to highly frustrated authors who wonder if it is all worth it.

Ultimately I can’t help but think this is all an exercise in determining a definition of success for the individual author. If you can measure it you can define it. That is as long as we know what “it” is.

Read More

Never Burn a Bridge!

The sale of Thomas Nelson to HarperCollins and last week’s sale of Heartsong to Harlequin brought to mind a critical piece of advice:

Never Burn a Bridge!

Ours is a small industry and both editors and authors move around with regularity. If you are in a business relationship and let your frustration boil into anger and ignite into rage…and let that go at someone in the publishing company, you may end up burning the bridge. And that person who you vented on might someday become the head of an entire publishing company.

Read More

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

“Where do you get your ideas?” This question was reportedly posed to Stephen King at a writers conference in New England. His answer may seem harsh, but it’s illuminating: “If you have to ask, don’t become a writer.” Most working writers have little trouble coming up with ideas. In fact, …

Read More

When to Fire Me As Your Agent

Until recently, the only time I was fired from a job was when I worked for a department store, drilling the holes in bowling balls. Apparently, you can’t put the holes just anywhere. Since becoming a literary agent, however, I have been “fired” a few times—not by He Who Knows …

Read More

Why I Write: 20 Reasons

Different people write for different reasons. Some for money. Some for fame. Some for posterity, and some for popularity. John, the author of the fourth Gospel, said he wrote “that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life …

Read More