Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Query question: including awards

 A little while ago I won a Gold Key and a few Silver Keys for a novel and a few short stories I submitted to the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. I didn’t get paid and the stories in question weren't published, but is it worth mentioning this in a query? I might be grasping at straws here, but I guess every little bit counts.

I understand that overwhelming desire to put something in the pub credits paragraph, particularly when you're just starting out. 

I had the same problem when I'd sold zero books. And then only one book, and then only two books.

This is the kind of award that you can certainly mention if you feel the need to. 

The awards you do NOT want to mention are those crazy, semi-phony awards that cost $75 to enter per title and have seven hundred categories, and first, second and third place. In other words, where everyone "wins".

And semi-finalist in the Amazon breakout novel contest was a big one for awhile. There were 200+ "winners' there.

The contests to mention are ones that you've actually won, have a degree of independent judging, and those with some actual value.

Hopefully you'd never enter any other kind of contest, but writers get hornswoggled into those things left and "write".


Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Well, I have never won a contest but my mother really liked my first novel. (I was 10.)
I have been "hornswoggled" a few times though, never won those either.
So OP's dilemma is something I do not have to suffer.
I guess that means I'm having a good day.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I am not big on contests or wasn't. I do rather enjoy the flash fiction contests here, but "winning" contests is not why I write. However, at this time, I keep my publishing paragraph empty. It's a very short and to the point query. But I do suffer that feeling of inadequacy of the unpublished author. I am hopeful that patience, determination, hard work, and time will give me something to tout in that ghost paragraph of my query. 😓

AJ Blythe said...

I guess that also means consider whether the contest is big enough that the agent will have heard of it - I doubt they'd take the time to google to decide if it is independent and has value.

Colin Smith said...

"The contests to mention are ones that you've actually won, have a degree of independent judging, and those with some actual value."

I that case I'm definitely mentioning my two Janet Reid writing contest wins! Ha! At last, something to put in my bio... :D

Susan Bonifant said...

I completely understand the drive to fatten that last paragraph on the query with whatever may pass for a credit. But a while back, on this blog, I read that it can sometimes work against you to list something that isn't necessarily tied to strong editorial oversight, or high standards in general.

That said, the practice of competing in contests, and the feeling of standing out as a writer will urge you to the door of higher castles. It matters that you do this for yourself.

If your case is like mine, OP, plenty of agents will show interest and ask for pages on the basis of the story idea and writing alone, while you keep at the rest, and grow yourself into a better and better writer.

Janet herself reminds us that in the end, it comes down to this: good stories, told well. It is a tangible, clean goal at the end of a long road, but those refueling stops - workshops, contests, critique groups - will keep you going.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Colin, those Janet wins are as good as a Newberry. Definitely mention those. You will have agents/ publishers fighting over you :) If I ever won one, I would no longer have an empty paragraph in my query.

Marc P said...

Yup the JR contest is the only one I enter, and I am not talking about ten gallon hats. I have been nominated for a few awards in the past but they are all rigged I am here to tell you. Every single one of them. Rigged.


Not bitter, not bitter at all.

Colin Smith said...

Picking up on E.M.'s comment, how valuable are contests to everyone? I think we agree (because Janet has said so) that they are not necessary for snagging an agent--plenty of people have been published without them. But major contest wins do grab an agent's attention. Even still--why bother entering flash contests, short story contests, etc.? One answer I can think of is for validation. The knowledge that someone who knows something about writing (i.e., the judge of the contest, whether a writer, an agent, or an editor) thought that my work was better than all the other entries by other good writers. I don't know about you, but after rejection notes, when the self-doubt kicks in, things like this can be a nice boost to help carry on. On the flip side, if you enter a bunch of contests and never win, that can help fuel your self-doubt. So, perhaps you enter contests for the challenge and the writing practice? That, to me, is a better reason. Enter to win, but value and learn from the experience. Use it as an opportunity to improve my writing skills, get better at submitting my work for others to read and judge, and develop a thick skin when it comes to rejection.

Kregger said...

You mean...*hard swallow*...my best of show for the Felix Buttonweezer schlock contest...is invaluable?
The horror...the horror...

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Yeah, contests aren't for me. Like Colin said, they might be good for honing your skills, but if you lose constantly? For myself, I do workshops. Specifically the OWW one (onlinewritingworkshop.com). It's a great place to get those first few drafts done while interacting with lots of writers, many of them already published. Anyhow, you might not be able to tout this on your query but it is a great place to get feedback, real honest and sometimes harsh feedback. It's really helped my writing. I highly recommend it. I plan to keep using it even after (God willing) I am published.

Colin Smith said...

Ha! I just got your ten-gallon hat reference, Marc--but I had to dig into my childhood for that one. And I'm talking about that weekly excursion into how Americans really live that was watching "Dallas" with my Mum. British kids of my generation--okay, that's a bit sweeping; let's narrow it down a bit. My friends at school and I were under the impression that most, if not all, Americans looked and sounded like someone from "Dallas," or they were from New York. But it's very hard to picture "someone from New York." J.R. Ewing was much more attainable in terms of iconography. The guy with the twang, the hat, and the swagger--after all, he sounded like Jimmy Carter, and don't all Americans walk around with that same kind of self confidence? And they're all rich too! Ah... life was so simple back then. :)

Marc P said...

Life IS so much simpler with a ten gallon hat. Blazing Saddles

'Is that ten gallon hat or are you just enjoying the show!'

Personally I'd like to wear one but I fear I am too short to carry it off - even with cuban heels!

LynnRodz said...

Honest to Godiva - sorry for stealing your phrase, Janet - if I entered Janet's flash fiction contest with the hopes of winning, I would never enter her contests. I enter for the simple reason I like to challenge myself to see if I can come up with a story in 100 words or less using her 5 key words. I also like to see how I dwindle my first draft (usually at 150 to 200 words) down to 100 by taking out all the unnecessary words. It's great practice for editing and tightening my WIP.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying I don't get tickled pink when she gives me a mention or I become a finalist, but it's not why I entered.

I personally don't mind not having anything to put in my bio. As others have said, it doesn't matter if you won this contest or that one. Sure, an agent will take a look at your submission with more interest, but bottom line, it's the story and how it's written that count.

Stephen Kozeniewski said...

I once won $40 in the Calaveras County Frog Jumping Competition.

Unknown said...

I love flash fiction contests mostly because I like telling stories, but also because entering has really helped me become a better editor. Looking at a 130 word entry and knowing I need to chomp it down to 100 words has helped me figure out which words are the important ones. Now if only I could include my one win in a query letter!

And congratulation OP on your Gold and Silver keys! My daughter won a Silver Key for printmaking, and I know in Middle and High School it's a really big deal.

Craig F said...

In the corner of my mind, where the sugar plum queries dance, I erected a sign. It says BREVITY IS DIVINE. It was put there to remind me that the object of a query is to make an agent holler for more.

You have round about 250 words to elicit that response. Use it to the best of your ability. I will admit that I have absolutely zero pub creds but even if I did I would have to weigh things carefully to add them into a query. If the query works you can discuss such things later. Make every word of your query dance like those sugar plum queries that dance just out of reach.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Stephen, Mark Twain is most impressed.

I have spectacularly lost a screenwriting contest a decade straight but the prize in that contest was an agent. Is there a contest where one of us woodland creatures could win Janet? I will give that contest a go.

Colin Smith said...

E.M.: I believe such a contest does exist! All you have to do is write a novel, then send Janet a query describing your novel in the most enticing terms. Every day, she picks the best of these queries to see the novels. Out of these novels, she picks a winner, and the winning novelist gets to have Janet as his or her very own agent.

I think some other people are running similar contests.

Sorry--I couldn't resist that one. ;)

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Colin... And these are the contests I enter. Sadly, there are no consolation prizes.

Dena Pawling said...

I once had a judge tell me, in open court, that if I was ever looking for employment in the future, I shouldn't use this particular brief as a writing sample [I wrote it while I had the flu]. However, because he agreed with the argument I had hidden among the awkward sentences, the ruling was in my favor.

“The contests to mention are ones that you've actually won,” - I won, altho apparently my brief didn't.

“have a degree of independent judging,” - most judges consider themselves the gods of their courtrooms, definitely independent.

“and those with some actual value.” - definitely valuable to my client.

Congrats to OP on the awards! Even if you end up not using them in your query.

I came back from my long weekend in the mountains to 100+ degree heat, with a heat advisory all the way thru Friday. I can't wait for summer to be over.

Calorie Bombshell said...

A few years ago, I won the short story competition held by the Pikes Peak Writers Conference in Colorado. The prize was free admittance to the three-day conference, an award, and attendance at the award dinner. It was an amazing three days of learning, networking, and binge snacking on bite-size macarons. I'm usually surrounded by overstuffed, linear-thinking lawyers, so the creative vibe blew my mind. That being said, I'm not sure I would include it in any query.

Susan said...

This is the second blog post/article I've come across this morning about these contests, but I think my opinion is holding firm.

A little background: I self-published my first book because I knew there wasn't a market for a novella, it was the story I wanted to tell and exactly how I wanted to tell it (including cover design and marketing campaigns), and, to be completely honest, I was sick at the time and wanted to see this dream happen, to leave something of myself behind. It was, in every single way, the story of my heart.

While I'm proud of that book, my best friend is self-doubt, especially when it comes to my writing--I'm working on it, but as we all know, that beast is a bastard to tame. So I entered these contests because I've rarely ever won anything and I wanted to see what would happen. I ended up winning a category in one and was a finalist in another.

These contests themselves didn't result in much (although I did get an engraved glass statue from one. Can't lie, that was pretty awesome!), but it garnered some attention, and I learned to re-market my book under a different category, which resulted in a few more sales from readers I may never have reached. Most importantly for me, it provided the validation I desperately needed to boost my self-esteem and keep me moving forward.

I think, as with everything, you have to know what you're after when you go into it, especially if money is involved. Also, be cautious and take your time. I researched every contest before selecting the ones I wanted to enter and managed my expectations, and I'm happy with the result.

That said, I have mentioned these awards in my query letter, which may be my mistake, considering Janet's post. But entering the contests themselves? I'm still happy I did it for the value I got out of it.

Colin Smith said...

So, here's an on-topic question that I think applies to many of these "don't do that" kind of query questions:

If you do mention a not-very-impressive-in-the-grand-scheme-of-things contest win in your query, is that a deal breaker, or just a waste of real estate? Will an agent form-reject the query, or think less of the author making it harder to convince the agent to take the project, or will the agent ignore the contest wins and evaluate the query (and pages if applicable) as if the author hadn't said anything?

I think the underlying fear for some is that they HAVE mentioned such things in a query, and these are what got them the form rejection. Or maybe they have a contest win they are not sure is valuable, and wonder if mentioning it on the off-chance the agent is impressed would hurt their chances of getting a fair shake in the event the agent is not impressed.

Susan said...

Colin: Crap, that's a good question. And now you're making me wonder...

Only Janet can really answer this question, but I think from everything we've read, the decision comes down to the writing itself and whether or not the agent can place it in the market. BUT I'm wondering if including this information would get them annoyed when they read it and/or make assumptions about the author.

Marc P said...

@Colin and Susan

I think she already has answered the question. When you are presenting a plate of food to someone they don't care that you won a cookery completion some years ago, especially if they don't like what is on the plate. If it is with a professional capacity and demonstrates professionalism therefore in an ongoing context then this makes sense. You are selling todays sausage not last years sizzle. So there is no harm including these details in a general cv toward the end maybe, but it isn't something to be leading with if is a competition and not an industry award. If it is an industry award a lot of writers lead with that in their title or opening sentence.

The trick as ever is put yourself in someone else's shoes. It is hard to detach yourself from yourself - but in a funny way that is at the heart of our job throughout.

Give them the sausage first. At the end of the day it is your story that hooks, everything else you have to be careful about is not stopping them from reading that.

Colin Smith said...

Susan: I think you're probably correct--at least I think Janet would just sigh and ignore it. I think her attitude is that it doesn't matter, but you're wasting precious word count so why bother? However, it would be nice if she said it in no uncertain terms. I'm sure she will also caveat her comment with the usual "this is just ME, I'm not speaking for other agents" which we all know is complete and utter bunk because she is QOTKU. ;)

Colin Smith said...

Marc: My question is pointed more at the consequences of doing the wrong thing, which I don't think Janet addressed. I could be wrong, but in the post she was talking to someone who is undecided about whether to mention the contest win. I'd like her to address those who already have mentioned that contest win, and are wondering if that's why they're getting form rejections. And also speak to the person who's not sure whether their contest win falls into the "impressive" or the "not-so-impressive" category.

Adele said...

I once made the Top 5 in a writing contest at a writing conference I attended. It cost $5 to enter, and three judges read your writing, and - what I thought was most important - you were sent the judge's comments. Two of the judges gave a small amount of useful feedback on my writing. The third was apparently stung by the fact that my MC got along reasonably well with her ex-husband, and sent along three angry pages about why no woman would ever ever ever have anything to say to her slimy sleazy bastard ex-husband, that miserable wretch. At that point I realized it wasn't enough to have a judge read your writing - you needed to have a professional judge, or at least one who wasn't blinded by her own prejudices.

In the same contest, a friend's MS was panned by a judge who asserted that the geographical area where she set her novel did not exist. (It did.) A year or two later the contest stopped providing the judge's comments, because 'they provoked too much controversy'.

The people at the writing contest were trying, they really were, but I certainly wouldn't mention my Top 5 in a query letter.

Colin Smith said...

Adele: Interesting. While I understand the reason for discontinuing judges comments, those comments help you evaluate the judges. Any judge that deducts points from a novel because it's set in a location s/he doesn't think exists (like that really matters for a NOVEL), or because the MC's relationships don't conform to that judge's experience, doesn't deserve to be judging such a competition. It seems to me a contest organizer would find that kind of information useful.

Donnaeve said...

Writing credits, if you have them, only solidify what an agent would likely see in the query, so kudos to anyone who can list them out.

Zero publication credits reminds me of someone applying for a job for the very first time with no experience. I mean hey, at one time, none of us had any job experience either, just like at one time the best writers in the world had no publication credits.

Your writing is what's important at this point. That and a great query - without credits if need be.

As an aside, if I were querying, personally, I wouldn't list the FF's I've won b/c I intended them to be practice, and for fun. IMO, those 100 word stories are definitely hard to do, but I'm not sure an agent would read that and instantly think my 100,000 word book must be a winner.

S.D.King said...

Having won a Janet Reid Flash Fiction is one of the few things that keeps me going these days. At least one agent liked one thing (if only 100 words!)

Marc P said...

@SD And good for you it is no small thing at all. And trust me one hundred words is more than enough for most editors agents publishers lackeys etc etc to stop reading with any degree of eager anticipation. :(

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Adele: Whew, I guess I underestimated the importance of geographic veracity in fiction! Here I thought we were allowed to make things up ;)

For my part, I've forgotten to add my publication credit(s) to my query letter. I've only sent out a couple since said publication has occurred (what I thought was an #MSWL fit, that kind of thing), and in general have deafening silence on that front (including my full) , so I think I've come to the "re-examine the query and the first pages" stage of the game.

I once won second place in the D&D "competition" at a convention, and I won first place at some young writer's thing at Brookdale Community College when I was 10....Walter Farley's brother was the judge, and my award was a copy of The Black Stallion's Filly that he wrote a very nice note in which showed he actually read my story, and I about died of happiness.

Otherwise, I don't much go for contests. I've entered a few (Glimmer Train, Narrative magazine, etc.) but for the most part, I give 'em a miss.

Colin Smith said...

S.D.: I'm with you on that. Though as I work on my next novel, I'm reminded that being able to write flash fiction is no guarantee of being able to write a novel. Yes, I'm a lot more conscious of word choices, and I edit a lot more, but there's so much more story to write. Pieces of character development that would be cut from flash have their place in a novel. They are two somewhat overlapping but very different disciplines.

The Sleepy One said...

Now I'm curious if anyone has heard of Willamette Writers' Kay Snow Awards. Its an annual writing contest that costs a little bit (maybe $10) to enter, and they award first to third place in four categories at their annual conference. Winners get prize money, certificate, and free dinner at WW's award banquet.

I entered the first chapter of a WIP a few years ago and placed in one of the categories, but haven't mentioned the award in my bio. I was able to take a few writer friends out for drinks with my prize money, which made it worth entering the contest. :)

Anonymous said...

Around here (Saskatchewan), everyone is all about the Saskatchewan Book Awards - the awards given to Saskatchewan authors and publishers. It would be really great to be recognized at home, but I always have to wonder just how important such an award would be outside of Saskatchewan, and especially outside of Canada. These awards are for published books and are independently judged. But you know, I would probably put it in my publishing paragraph, anyway. "My book, Living in Saskabush, was published by Saskabush Publishing in Tiny, Saskatchewan, and won an award for Best Tiny Novel at the Saskatchewan Book Awards."

I've heard that agents and editors want to see only publishing credits they may have heard of - the larger magazines, for instance, or the American national awards. The smaller, more literary awards (such as those contests that literary organizations put on in order to get more subscribers to their little literary magazines) don't mean as much to them. However, Glimmer Magazine (a literary magazine that is only fuelled by quarterly contests) is a well-known, pro-paying market that is held in high regard.

Certain contests and awards are worth more in certain genres, too. The L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future awards are quite influential in science fiction and fantasy, but I don't know if mentioning this award when querying a cozy mystery would be as useful. Then again, it's probably better than an empty paragraph.

Colin: I enter contests for the money. I am a money-driven writer, I'm afraid, even though I've never made any money with my fiction (so far!) Janet's flash fiction contests are different. I enter those for the community.

kregger: It is definitely invaluable. There are very few winners of that award. Unfortunately, it's not worth much.

EM: OWW is a great workshop. I was there for awhile, but wound up getting involved in a different workshop that took up much more time, so I'm on a (very) indefinite leave.

Colin (again): I don't think agents will think bad of you if you mention wins they've never heard of. I think, though, if you were to mention one of those contests that are actually scams, the agent might think you're terribly naive. Whether that turns them off or not, I don't know.

Using wins or publications an agent has never heard of most likely won't help you, but I doubt if they would hurt you. I've seen some say that even a great publishing credit in one genre won't help you sell in another genre... but I really think it's one of those things where every agent has their preferences.

When it comes right down to it, the bio paragraph - with its publishing credits - is simply meant to tell the agent that someone of note thought your work was worthy of publishing or of an award. The more noteworthy the 'someone of note' is, the better, of course.

Colin Smith said...

Sleepy: Can't say I have, though it does remind me of one seemingly hard-and-fast rule: If you're going to mention a contest success, unless it's a really major contest, don't mention it unless you actually won.

Mark Ellis said...

I was a semi-finalist for the Spokane Fiction Prize in 2005, put it in my queries for about 15 minutes, and then decided, nah.

Anonymous said...

Sleepy One:

If you won actual money, it wouldn't hurt to mention it. I've heard of the Willamette Writers conference, if not the contest. Did they print the winners in an anthology? If so, that's definitely a publishing credit.

Mentioning it won't hurt your chances. If you're querying an agent in the Pacific Northwest, definitely mention it. They'll know the people involved. Agents elsewhere... you could still mention it. Do you know who the judges were? Do you know how many people entered the contest? The better known the judges and the more entrants, the better a publishing credit it is.

Colin Smith said...

bj: Yes--I'm hoping that's the general feeling (no harm, no foul, but if it's not going to help, don't waste word count).

To your last point, this is where publication credits are perhaps more important than contest wins. If I was querying Janet, would she be more impressed with getting published in AHMM (I haven't--just hypothetically), or winning a Writer's Digest contest? While the latter demonstrates someone in publishing thinks my work is good, the former demonstrates I'm publishable, and she can go look up my story to see for herself. Maybe I'm wrong on that. A bit off-topic, but I'd be interested in people's thoughts.

The Sleepy One said...

bjmuntain: We have the Oregon book awards here, but its only for published novels. They also give out grants for unpublished work. I've known a few of the winners/nominees of the book award in the children lit divisions and it sounds like one of the best parts of winning is getting to travel around the state and present at schools. This sounds slightly terrifying to me.

As far as WW: no anthology, but it did pay. I was happy for the ego-boost. It's a blind submission contest. I'll probably default to keeping my bio simple.

Anonymous said...

(For those who don't know: AHMM is Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine)

Colin, if you were published in AHMM, I would say that's a ton better. With the Writer's Digest contests, you're going up against other new writers, for the most part. When you get published in a magazine like AHMM (notice I said 'when') you've competed with professional authors. AHMM is also better known to most agents.

There are certain markets you will always mention. AHMM is one, as is its sister magazine, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. In science fiction, Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction is big. Heck, any pro market is worthwhile mentioning. (Pro is generally agreed to be a market paying 5 cents per word or more.) Most agents will know the pro markets in their genre.

That's not to say you don't mention the Writer's Digest contest win. That's a good one, too. But AHMM says you're professional and your work is of professional quality.

Recaptcha wants me to choose all the food. And one picture is of a cake with a soccer ball on top.... and yes, the cake was accepted as food.

Colin Smith said...

Thanks for the "when" bj! I always appreciate a vote of confidence. If I can just write a short story worthy of their pages... :)

Oh, and thanks for spelling out AHMM, and sorry to those who didn't know what I was talking about. :)

Janice Grinyer said...

What Susan Bonifant said...exactly.

The only writing competitor in your mind should be you. Make yourself strive to the best that YOU can be.

Colin Smith said...

[pretend this is not a new comment but part of the last one]

I seem to recall in ON WRITING, Stephen King talks more about the magazines he submitted stories to than the contests he entered. Maybe back then there weren't as many contests around, but getting published in some form seemed to be a greater priority to him.

That's just an observation for the dialog, not a value judgment on my part.

Anonymous said...

Sleepy One:

Presenting at schools is essential for children's book writers. It's how they sell their books. They get children and their teachers interested and excited about their books, which is what children's writers want.

If you don't write children's books, though, you don't usually have much to worry. Although you might give readings... and many writers' groups and conferences have 'how to give a reading' workshops.

There are some agents and editors who specifically request you have a bio in your query letter. Those are the query letters where you will definitely mention your wins. It's better than NOT having any credits to mention in a bio.

The Saskatchewan Book Awards are also for published books. But I'm not sure how useful locally published books are, let alone local awards for said books. That's not to say I wouldn't mention them, but if I had a pro magazine publication, that would go first in my bio. UNLESS, as I said, the agent is locally based. There aren't many based in Sasktchewan, but there are a few in the Pacific Northwest.

Anonymous said...

Colin: When you're starting out, any publishing credit is good. The more you get your name out there, the more people will recognize you. It's not necessarily for the 'bio' line of your query letter. If you've published a few stories in AHMM, for instance, and if certain people like them, the more they will recognize your name. If you impress the right people, they might approach *you*.

It's like any profession, really. You develop a reputation. If your reputation is for writing great horror stories that keep you on the edge of your seat, you'll have an easier time finding a publisher, and you'll have already started gaining a readership.

Colin Smith said...

bj: It's nice to think that an agent would approach a writer on the strength of short stories in, say, AHMM. I can't imagine that happens very often these days, though. Perhaps in King's day, when publishing was a whole different ball of wax? That's not to say agents wouldn't be interested, but how would an agent show interest? An email saying, "Please query me when you've finished with your novel?" That would be nice, but the author would probably query anyway. Better would be: "When your novel's finish, please send me the mss."--i.e., skip the whole query process altogether. I wonder how often that happens...?

This is getting a little OT... but not much... really... :)

Pam Powell said...

Sleepy One -
Don't be afraid of presenting. Join Toastmasters! Toastmasters improves everyone's presentation skills and is so supportive!

Lance said...

Colin, I think you have right. I don't have any credits one way or the other, but I would think if you're in doubt, use your words to tell about your story.

Marc P said...

Just a little point to add on Topic.

Debut authors are very much looked for. In some ways it is a lot lot easier to get a first publishing deal than it is to get a second. The First Novel - is pretty much of a genre of it's own in a funny kind of way. A fresh voice to the market is what everybody is looking for.

So... in some ways that plain entry in your published works section - is sometimes a pretty good thing!

If you look at it this way a lot of people are looking for you - the writer with no credits yet. The virgin novelist. The pure snow. The undiscovered hinterland. The new err.... metaphor.

So I would say don't clutter that selling point with stuff that is irrelevant to distract from your shiny newness and the brilliance of the pages attached to follow.

Everyone is looking to strike buried gold. Agents, publishers and Readers alike.

Janet can correct me here of course - but it is a way of looking at things!

Anonymous said...

Colin: Agents - and editors at publishing houses - are looking for new authors. While queries and pitches are the most common ways they get to know of these authors, they're not going to limit themselves.

SiWC (the conference in Surrey, BC) has what they call 'SiWC Idol', where Jack Whyte of the beautiful baritone brogue reads the first few paragraphs of a novel and a group of 4 agents talks about what they liked and didn't like.

One year, after a rather interesting few paragraphs of a novel, a certain agent nearly got into blows with another agent because they both WANTED IT. That's one way to get noticed, without having queried or pitched.

If an agent likes what they read in a pro magazine, you don't think they'll approach an author? Or if an editor really likes your work, they might suggest an agent look at it. In fact, I thought I read something along these lines on the blog some time ago, having to do with a certain slithery colleague, and I found this:

Two years ago at GrubStreet in Boston a very smart editor thrust a rather startled author at me and said "here, read her stuff. She's amazing."

And that's how Janet met Sophie Littlefield. Now, true, Janet didn't take her on right away. Or at all (thanks to Ms BP.) But that's one way to get known by agents. Networking. Building a solid reputation for professional work. The publishing world is a small one - especially so in the genre markets. Getting some exposure can be a good thing.

Agents know what they like. And if they see something they like, why wouldn't they approach the author? It happens. Maybe not a lot, but it does.

Back on track, though: yes, publication in a pro market is worthy of being included in your publishing history. Winning a prestigious contest (for instance, Writers of the Future, for science fiction and fantasy writers) is worthy of being included. National awards, too.

The two poems I had included in the back of a charity anthology over a decade ago? Not so much.

Colin Smith said...

bj: I don't doubt an agent might want an author so badly (*minds out of the gutter people--we're talking professionally!!*) s/he's willing to skip the query process and request the ms. I'm just curious how often that actually happens. Thanks for the examples! :)

Janet Reid said...

bj, that story isn't about Sophie Littlefield.

This is the my first blog post about Sophie.

I never passed on Sophie. I just wasn't fast enough to snag her. La Slitherina waylaid me with liquor and handsome men (her husband who it turns out was in on BaPo's nefarious scheme) one evening at Thai Select. (A dive bar on 9th Avenue where we are no longer welcome) The rest (400 books and some unknown number of awards and bestseller lists later) I'm just swimming around muttering "I shoulda known better!"

Anonymous said...

Oh dear. I misunderstood something somewhere, then. I'm sorry.

One thing that looking at all those old posts made me realize, though, was that I hadn't queried Ms. Poelle yet. Hmm...

Colin Smith said...

It seems appropriate to today's topic for me to mention that the last Janet contest I won was for a copy of Sophie's THE MISSING PLACE. It's an excellent book, so I'm glad I won. :)

Colin Smith said...

Oh..! Oh..! And check the link!! And look at the last comment!! It still makes me smile. :D

Elena said...

It's questions like this that make me oddly relieved that my novel isn't finished and therefore nowhere near query stage--as it is I pull the hair out of my head trying to figure out what's worth mentioning and what isn't for short story submission cover letters.

"I think, as with everything, you have to know what you're after when you go into it, especially if money is involved. Also, be cautious and take your time. I researched every contest before selecting the ones I wanted to enter and managed my expectations, and I'm happy with the result."

Truth. That's awesome advice plus pretty much the best outcome, and I'm happy for you =) Off topic a little, but what kinds of things did you keep in mind while you were researching contests?

@S.D.King and @Colin Smith, seconding Marc P--winning a Janet Reid Flash Fiction Contest is no small thing!

I'm convinced Janet brought me luck. The same day she listed me as a semi-finalist in a contest this past summer I received a notice--one of my short stories had been accepted by a lit magazine I really like!

I mean yes, I guess the logical conclusion to reach would be that those two pieces of happy news arriving on the same day was just a coincidence.

...but was it?

Haha, I feel like a chipmunk that's stuffed both pieces of good news in its cheeks to store away for the harsh rejection winter.

Anonymous said...

Not purely coincidence, Elena. What is the one thing that these two pieces of 'luck' had in common?

Your writing skill.

THAT's the logical conclusion. You got two pieces of good writing-related news because your writing is THAT GOOD.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

oooh, is that why Barbara Poelle has received the slithery epitaph? Or just part of the reason why? I've wondered, of course.

Hey, congrats, Elena! Coincidence, lucky, whatever. We take what we can get, right?

Pam Powell said...

Will it work? Gotta ask!

Self-published a Y2K technical book that a top Y2K web site considered a "must-have" for small and medium-sized businesses. (Don't expect a sequel).

BJ Muntain said...

Poof!: You're not going to write Y3K? Or Y2L?

Susan said...

Elena: Congrats on the lit mag acceptance! Like the others say above, I think it says more about your writing ability than coincidence ;)

When I researched these contests I took into consideration the cost, categories, previous winners (to see what the judging was like and how my book might fare), how well established the contest/sponsors were, and what others in the indie world were saying about them. Overall, I was pleased with all the interactions I've had--the contest in which I ended up winning the children's category also provided a nice blurb explaining why my book was selected, which I've used for marketing purposes. Hope that helps!

Elena said...

@bjmuntain, Jennifer, Susan: thank you very much for your kind words! And absolutely Jennifer, I will take whatever I can get! Just got a rejection yesterday for another story, so the universe has righted itself once more, haha.

@Susan--thank you, that's definitely helpful and makes a lot of sense, particularly reading the previous winners. I wouldn't submit a story to a magazine I haven't read before, so it makes sense to apply that to contests as well.

I have writer friends who enter contests based on a strictly analytical basis (their odds, how many prizes available, etc.) or who have infinite contest-entering funds so they just enter everywhere--those methods work for them whether they win or not, but aren't really a match for my philosophy/situation (haha, particularly the "infinite funds" part).

Thanks again, and congratulations for winning the children's category! =)

Susan said...

I don't mean to keep this thread going way after the fact, but...

Elena: Thanks! I'm with ya on the infinite funds bit--one could only wish! Like I said in my original comment, I wanted to enter the contests more for the validation than anything else--to see if my writing could "cut it," so to speak. But I knew that if my writing was going to be judged, I wanted to be judged against a higher caliber--which is why I looked at previous winners and where the contests stood in the indie world. I think in self-publishing, you have to be more cautious because there are a ton of scams, but there are also legit organizations who just have upfront costs, and they tend to pass that onto the authors (especially as you're your own business). Since I ended up including the entry fees as part of my marketing budget, the contests ended up being two-fold.

I'm a natural skeptic, so it's my inclination to say research everything, trust your gut, and know your reasons for going in. It sounds like lit mags are working for you, and rightly so! Don't let that one rejection get you down--you've got something. It'll just take someone else to see it :)

Elena said...

=) Thanks Susan! *Toast* May we all one day have infinite funds!