First, some background – When I went back to my writing, I produced something totally different – a YA novel. (Gosh I’m sorry you don’t rep YA, but I digress…) Querying, as always, has been quite miserable. At first, I got a couple of requests, lots of silence, and one bite: an agent I met at a conference asked for the manuscript. I ended up doing an R&R for her, but while she was very complementary of the book, she still rejected it. After that crushing blow, I queried to more silence and had to wonder if I would ever find an agent (the crushing blow became an existential blow).
Enter the BookLife Prize for Fiction – an arm of Publisher’s Weekly. For the contest, they will read your entire self-published book or unpublished manuscript, give you a review, and if you do well, you proceed in the contest. I figured this might be a way to get that neutral feedback I desperately needed after the existential R&R blow. So I coughed up the $99 for the entry fee (although it sounds steep, it’s comparable to the Writer’s Digest contest for self-pubbed authors). The review was really favorable. But being the insecure writer (i.e. the writer), I wasn’t sure what to make of it. So I got in touch with BookLife and asked, “Is this a good review, or do you say nice things about everyone?” Answer (to paraphrase): No, it’s not a good review, it’s a GREAT review (you idiot!). Congratulations! And since we don’t give everyone this kind of review, you might actually make it to next round of top ten for YA.
OK, so now, finally, here’s my question: Should I consider including any part of the review from BookLife in my query letter? Might an agent care that BookLife said the novel had “fully realized characters, crisp dialogue, excellent pacing, and a satisfying conclusion?” Or do I just look like an idiot for entering this contest?
Or maybe I only get to include an excerpt of the review if I get to the next round in the judging?
It will surprise none of you reading this to know that I don't care what anyone else says about your book, up to and including my sainted mum. The only opinion that matters is mine. So, for a query to me, you don't need to include anything anyone else said, including a nice review from the judges for this prize.
The value of this contest for you is not the blurb it gives you, it's the confidence. You now know that you don't sucketh mightily. You have the review to prove it. Paste that thing above your computer screen and read as often as needed to slay those writerly doubts.
There are some agents however who might want to hear about this kind of review. You'd include it in your query letter with the paragraph that has your bio and pub credits. You'd say I entered this novel in the BookLife Prize for Fiction and reviewers said the novel had “fully realized characters, crisp dialogue, excellent pacing, and a satisfying conclusion.”
Generally however, you don't need to do this. Most agents who want what they call blurbs are looking for big-name authors that they can, in turn, use to pitch the project to editors. Contest reviews aren't useful for that at all.