I entered a novel contest known as [REDACTED] and out of 152 submissions, I got....10th place.Contests are terrific, and I recommend entering them if they don't cost an arm or a leg. The one you entered is pretty close to an arm but that's not relevant here.
As you can imagine, I’m over the moon about this, but I’m not sure if or how I should include it in a query letter. Is that high enough place to even bring up? Should I say ‘came in top ten at such-and-such contest’? Should I not even bother because even though I got my name on the scoreboard, I didn’t win top three?
The question you want to ask is: will it help my query to include it?
Think of it this way: to be Miss America, a contestant has to win a state competition first. To win a state competition, contestants often practice by entering other pageants like Miss Kale, Miss Kudzu, Miss Kazoo, Miss Kalamazoo; contests to hone the skills needed to compete in Miss America.
It doesn't matter if you were Miss Kale when you're competing for Miss America.
Writing contests are the same way. They're terrific practice, and a good way to get some validation in this cold hard publishing world, but they aren't often relevant in your query letter.
The downside of mentioning contests is it takes up word count, and often a writer would do better to tell me more about the book than a contest.
It also very rarely matters what anyone else (contest judges in this case) think about your book. It only matters what I think.
And it never matters what other writers think (the contest you entered was judged largely by writers from what I could see.) Yes, I need beautiful writing, but I need writing I can SELL and that's often a very different set of standards.
Bottom line: focus on telling me about your book before you include anything else. If you can't resist mentioning the contest, it won't hurt your query at all, but it makes me think you're pretty new to the game.