Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Question: Querying while in the middle of a contest

I have one of those "how to include relevant info in a query without sounding like a loon" question. Basically, the MS I am working on was picked as a finalist in a contest run by a major publishers. The contest prize is an e-book deal with this publisher's new imprint. I'm to submit the complete MS to them by September 1 (right now they have only seen the first 50 pages and a pitch) and I want to query the project around that same time. The contest results are supposed to go out later that month.

My question is, how do I convey the situation to agents? It's not at all the same as telling the agent I have an offer on the table (I don't--more like a 1 in 10 shot at an offer) or that my work was simply recognized in a contest. In fact, I'm a little worried that the contest stipulations would be a turn-off to agents (the deal is e-book only with a very, very conservative advance, and I'm not sure if there's any room for negotiation in the event that I do win). To complicate things further, the timing of all this is such that I probably won't hear back from some of the agents on my list until after the contest results are out. Should I just wait until that happens before even attempting to query?

What's the best way to go about this?

There's one piece of information you left out, and I really hope you know the answer: if you win the contest are you required to publish the book there? In other words: can you decline the prize?

If you can decline the prize; query as you would normally, and wait to see what happens. If you win, and you're in the middle of querying you email the agents you've queried with the news.

If you CAN NOT decline the prize: you wait to query till the contest is done. 

Here's why:  If you query me and I fall in love with your manuscript only to find out that you've won the contest and there's no place else I can submit the work, you've locked me in to a small advance and most likely a not-very-favorable contract.  I'm less likely to say yes to that than I am if you've got the option of saying no and I can shop the manuscript more widely and perhaps get you a better deal.

If you're good enough to win a competitive contest, you're probably good enough to get some attention the old fashioned way too.


Kitty said...

Please don't think I'm being b!tchy when I ask, Why query agents about a ms while it's still entered in a contest?

mhleader said...

It all comes down to competition. If there is no choice but to go with that contest publisher, the contract terms will be whatever the publisher wants, and you have no say. A bad contract can be disastrous to an author's career.

If you have the option to shop it around elsewhere, the publishers have to compete among themselves to get what is evidently a very good book, and that makes them more willing to be reasonable in the contract terms--not just money, but also other terms too.

That's really the ultimate reason you have an agent in the first place. To get you the best possible deal for your book.

Colin Smith said...

@Kitty: It's all about trying whatever options are available to get your work published. This also applies to entering pitch contests while querying (given that your entry might be read by agents who have your query in their slush pile). As Janet indicates, you want to be careful not to bind yourself legally, but you also don't want to be so careful you're afraid to take risks. See Rule #10: Be Imperfect. :)

Melissa said...

Something about this makes me hesitant. What is the imprint and is it trustworthy? I only ask because some of the larger publishers have purchased or started vanity presses that make you think you're getting published when really you're not.

What's the perk of having your ebook published with this publisher versus self publishing it? Are they going to promote it at all? You mentioned a small royalty but how small? Is it worth losing a chance at an agent because you're already "published?" Could this contest be a way to advertise their press?

Look at the fine print and what the imprint really is. That being said even if you don't win or go with this group, congrats on making it this far. I'm sure, as with any writing contest, there were lots of entries.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Regarding Melissa's comments, I registered to enter a non-fiction contest with a publisher. They sent submission guidelines and a contract. I hesitated for a couple of days.

Then I received a call from the vanity press associated with that publisher. They were only too happy to publish my book, whether it won the contest or not, for one of several $$$$ packages. But I would have to market and sell it. The contest prizes were...a free package.

When I researched the publisher and its vanity press arm, it seemed that the publisher might take on a new author if the author marketed their book successfully.

E.Maree said...

Like others in the comments, I'm leery of this contest and would want to double-check the details of it.

Most big publisher contests (the Chicken House [Penguin Random House] Prize, ABNA) offer print deals to the winner, and a lot of major publishers with ebook imprints (Bloomsbury Spark, Random House Hydra, Hot Key Books, Harper Voyager, Tor) are open to unagented submissions and you don't need to go through any kind of contest to be considered.

So what major house is this that is offering a grand prize that doesn't even include a print deal? It's odd.

And a 1 in 10 odd is incredibly high for a major publisher, which makes me think they aren't as major as the writer thinks....

John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur said...

It's an interesting conundrum. With the contest, you're competing with other authors for a shot at being published. With an agent, assuming your manuscript is good (and I have no reason to doubt that it is) you're trying to get publishers to compete for your work. I like the latter scenario, myself.

Wendy Qualls said...

Read the fine print VERY carefully - some contests claim the rights to your work *even if you don't win.* Obviously they're not likely to do anything with it, but it can make selling your work later very difficult.

mhleader said...

E.Maree said...1 in 10 odd is incredibly high for a major publisher, which makes me think they aren't as major as the writer thinks....

Yes, but the writer said they're a FINALIST, which implies they're one of 10 such finalists. No information on how many total entries.

Lot of contests have "top 10" or "top 5" or even "top 3" in a category as the final-round entrants. That in no way implies it's not a legitimate contest or a legitimate publisher.

Steve Stubbs said...

Don’t know if you are a mathematician, but you can look at tis as a problem in probability theory. Contests are fun, but the probability of you winning is about zero. If your book is any good, the probability of you finding an agent is dismal but much better than your chance with the contest, If your book is accepted by a publisher, the advance you can expect to receive without an agent is about the same as your probability of winning the contest – i.e., zero. They will pay you a royalty years from now, but probably not an advance. With an agent your advance will be very small, but you can probably buy lunch with it if you order from the low cost end of the menu. That will give you an opportunity to experience the meaning of the saying you hear from writers all the time, “Chew Slowly. Chew Very Slowly.”

So to maximize your chances of success and satisfaction mathematically, you should query now, not in September. If you win the contest, congratulations.

Anonymous said...

I would wait to query until you find out the results of the contest. If you're going to wait two more months to start the querying process anyway, another month isn't going to make a difference.