Thursday, August 03, 2017

I won! I almost won! Notifying agents about contest results

The MS I'm querying recently placed in a reputable writing contest. Hooray! Obviously this is news that goes in all future query letters. (In the same paragraph with the other "meta data" like word count and title, yes?)

1) What's the best way to phrase this in a query? I didn't win, but I was runner-up. Other contests don't rank anyone beyond the winner (a la the Oscars), so would that just be 'I finaled'?

2) Are there contests big enough that you should send an update to agents with partials or fulls? My instinct tells me something like a Golden Heart or Thriller (national, big awards ceremony, etc.) is major news, but few others are. And that mentioning in a well-timed nudge is one thing, while sending a random update out of the blue is quite another.

(0) Yes

(1) "Title was the runner up in the 2017 Idol Hands Are the Devil's Playground Writing contest (sponsored by the Beel, Zee and Bub writing conference.)"

(2) It won't kill you to include this in a well-timed nudge. It won't kill you if you send a random update out of the blue either. I'd prefer the former to the latter only because I will reply to a nudge but not an update.

Bottom line: I'm delighted your novel won this accolade but it makes zero difference to me. (Sorry.)

Here's why: your competition is from too small a pool, and most likely only unpublished manuscripts. You'd have to actually win one of those contests to have the same odds as getting a request for a full from an agent.

Here's the math:

Most of those contests have fewer than 100 entries. I have five hundred queries in a month (6000 a year) and even when I'm on a full-requesting spree as I am now, I've asked for only 60 manuscripts.

requested full 1:100 (sixty out of six thousand)
win a contest: 1:100

When you add win, place or show:
Final in a contest: 3:100
(requested fulls still 1:100)

What this means for you: it certainly won't hurt to mention this, and doing well in a contest is terrific reassurance that you're not writing dreck, but it won't help you in the incoming queries enough to spend lots of time or money entering these. Winning a contest will get my attention probably. What keeps my attention is your novel.



Carolynnwith2Ns said...

No questions, one statement, I hate math.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

I wasn't sure if it would hurt or not, so this is very ,very interesting!

I've heard people (obviously not Madame Sharque) say things like "why would you mention what was ultimately a rejection in your opening statements". Which on one hand okay fine, you didn't win. But you entered and you were a finalist, that isn't really negative results.

It came up in my own sphere not because of a novel, but because one of my short stories was a finalist in the Baen Fantasy Adventure Awards this year. They only notify (and reward) the winners, but there were 10 (15?) finalists listed no the contest results page, so I got a screenshot of that, anyway, for those dark nights of the soul.

Colin Smith said...

So, as I've mentioned here before, I'm currently on a short story writing/submitting kick, largely to get some confidence that my writing is publishable and an editor is willing to part with money to publish my stuff. A minor reason is that I think publishing credit of some kind (i.e., where an editor has paid for your stuff) is worth more than contest wins.

Janet: While I know query success still comes down to the story, are you more inclined to request pages if the author says "My short stories have been published in B. L. Z. Bubb's Journal of Dark Matter and Better Homes and Gardens," than if the author says "I won this contest and was a runner up in that fairly prestigious contest"? Or would I have to be published in The New Yorker or The Atlantic for you to sit up and take notice?

MA Hudson said...

Colin - from your comments and your flash fiction entries here, you seem very publishable. You're a great writer and I'm sure everyone here is looking forward to reading a Colin Smith novel one day.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

I've mentioned a few relevant short story pubs in cover letters in the past--emphasis on few and relevant. My impressive non-fic article in Disney's Family Fun magazine won't impress Cc Finlay of F&SF.

My inclusion of a short story in a "Best Of..." anthology will because it's the same genre as the story I'm trying to sell him.

Timothy Lowe said...

It's a good thing we love this writing thing so much. Those are eye-opening odds.

*slinks back to cpu to up game*

Mister Furkles said...


If a query is not compelling but well enough written, and the manuscript won or placed in a reputable contest, would you be more likely to read the pages included with the query? Or if you finished the query, would you always read the pages?

BlancheDuBois said...

For what it's worth, I was in a similar situation. I was querying widely and seeing a lot of rejection. Then, my manuscript was a finalist in a fairly well-known contest.

I decided to re-query some agents who had rejected in the past with a new version of the query that mentions the contest up front--and I also briefly let them know exactly how many entrants were in the contest (the admin for the contest told me via an email exchange), which was more than 600, but fewer than 700.

Since then, I've had some partial requests and my first requests for fulls--all from agents who previously rejected (or didn't reply, which is the same thing). Kind of makes me wonder if they read the whole query the first time. But anyway, still waiting on some of those fulls, but from where I'm sitting, it seems to have made a difference.

Or maybe the wind shifted--that could be the reason, too. Or the phase of the moon. Or that comma I took out of the second paragraph of the query. Or . . .

But as Janet said, ultimately, it's still the writing that will make or break this thing. Here's hoping, as I spin on my wheel.

Good luck, OP!

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Janet, if you will please allow.
Though this may be considered OT it pertains, not only to the one writer I mention, but to a vast majority of writers who come here.

Colin,, shut up and sit down.
I don't think you realize what a good writer you are or how smart, how intuitive, how hard working, and funny. Get off you doubt-wagon. Yes, having a publishing credit is great but like the Queen says, it's the story stupid, it's the writing stupid. You know that. Hey, settle down, don't think of come back. YOU KNOW THAT.

To the rest of you, who read, comment, or lurk and leave, believe in your writing, believe in your abilities to tell the story. Slow down your hamster wheel and write.

I’m over the word-count, OT and probably pissing Janet off but we have something other writers do not, we have this place.
I’m done.
Have a nice day.

Janet Reid said...

2ns, you're going to have a work a whole lot harder to piss me off.
You might consider glitter bombs, or WCTU literature sent to the office for starters.

Also, what you said to Colin, and the rest of the woodland creatures: ditto.

Lennon Faris said...

Story, it's the story and how you tell it. Eventually that's all it is. Snagging attention may differ, but for representation and eventual success, it's the story. Got it!

2Ns - whoa. Amen, sister.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Hey Janet, watch you your mail.

Colin Smith said...

2Ns: *stands up* I... ummm... okay... *sits down*

Thanks, y'all... MA, 2Ns, Janet. It does mean a lot to hear y'all's affirmations (and to be able to use two apostrophes in a single word--yay Southernisms!!). I guess I just want to hear a publishing pro tell me "Your writing's good enough to pay hard cash for." If I think it through, no, it really doesn't make sense. Because if I self-published a book, and everyone reading this blog bought it--or even if just two of you--isn't that as valuable? You bet it is. Because at the end of the day, when all's said and done, after all the clich├ęs have been said, we just want people to read our stuff, and maybe part with coin to help support our habit. Am I right?

Nuff said. Too much, probably since this is a bit OT. What was the topic? Oops! Sorry, Snookums. :)

Susan said...

I'm going to go off-topic and probably over word count, too, but I haven't been around this week, so I hope I get a free pass.

What Carolynn said. Perfect.

But I also want to add this. I had a revelation this weekend that at some point in your writing journey you're going to have to believe you're an author. Whether that comes with the draft, the agent rep, the first published book, the tenth published book... it's all personal and different for everyone. But there's going to have to come a point where you finally begin to believe it. Because with that belief comes a different shift in energy--an ownership of your work, a come what may as you create. And as writers, we're compelled to keep creating.

I think with that ownership and belief comes grit and determination that pushes us forward towards every success--and contests are part of that success. Especially in the beginning, every ounce of validation is another piece that helps us eradicate our self-doubt. But we also have to do some of that believing in ourselves. And from what I know from hanging around here, you all have the heart and talent and should believe in yourself.

I have no idea if what I said will help or if it even makes sense. We're doing repairs on the house and I think the fumes are getting to me. But I just wanted to wave my pom-poms a bit. Yay.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Good fumes Susan.

Karen McCoy said...

Colin: I've read your writing. You have zero to worry about.

2Ns Amen, sister friend. Needed this.

Susan: Your fumes are just what I needed too. I was wary about the opening to my novel based on one (one!) rejection. I'll trust that it's where it needs to be.

Arri Frranklin said...

Different question, potentially on topic: having a short story as a finalist in a small town under 20 contest ranks on the level of getting a short story published in your high school's art magazine, in that nobody cares, correct? These are things that weren't going to end up in the query, and likely still aren't, but I just want to make sure.

Lennon Faris said...

Arri - I think you'd mention only publications/ wins that an agent might recognize (and in a good way!). Otherwise, what would be the use?

Megan V said...

In a way, it all boils down to expectations, doesn't it?

Write an enticing query and agent expects the pages will be on par.

Likewise, a good query that includes the fact that book placed reputable and well-known contest might increase the agents expectations for the pages and lead to requests.

Expect rejection, but don't let rejection be the end all be all. If you expect rejection, you can expect to learn from that rejection, and the one thing you should learn from every rejection is that you aren't a failure, but that you have more to learn.

Michael Seese said...

"Math is hard."
- Barbie