At a recent conference, a lovely writer who had finaled in a contest but wasn’t chosen as the winner asked if she could still submit a proposal to me. I told her “Yes! Of course!”
Her question brought to mind the role contests play in a writer’s career. I’m asked questions about contests at least once a month. I’ll try to answer two key questions here.
Should I Enter?
When considering whether to enter a contest, think about your career goals. Does the contest make sense for the type of book you write? A quick look at past winners may give you a clue as to the value of the particular contest for you. If you write science fiction but the winners are consistently writers of Westerns, then another contest makes more sense for you. Also, look at the prestige of the contest. Will being a finalist or even a winner be of benefit to you? Winning or being a finalist in large contests such as the ACFW Genesis contest for new authors, an ACFW Carol Award for published authors, or an RWA Rita Award gives an author credibility with publishers and the marketplace. Other contests that authors can enter on their own offer prestige. Some contests such as the The Christy Awards or The Christian Book Awards can only be entered through an author’s publisher. Do your own research and ask your agent for guidance on which contests to enter. Consider your budget, time, and how many copies of your book you have available to devote to contests.
Will a contest win guarantee publication for a new author?
No. Granted, a contest final or win may put you near the top of an agent or editor’s slush pile. However, just because an entry gains contest recognition doesn’t mean the project is right for the current market. Eligible contest entries are judged regardless of quality. Obviously the best go to the top. But even the most outstanding writing may not be able to overcome market considerations. If you are a contest winner but can’t understand why this recognition hasn’t resulted in a contract after vigorous submitting, the best advice I can offer is to work on a different project that is closer to the type of work finding success in the current market. Keep up the fine level of writing but tweak so you can find your place in the market. When editors and agents offer advice on how to do that, take it. Contest recognition offers you a degree of name recognition in the industry. What you do with that recognition is up to you.
Share your contest experience. Did a win or final in a contest help you? Which contests do you recommend for both fiction and nonfiction?
And if you want another perspective on writing contests make sure to read Carolyn Howard-Johnson for further insights.