Writing Contests

First off (and before we get to today’s post)…

HAPPY RELEASE DAY to Deborah Vogts, author of Snow Melts in Spring (Book 1 in the Seasons of the Tallgrass series). This is her first novel… and my first agented novel to be released. We’re both excited!

Click the picture to buy the book, and visit Debbie’s website to say hi and extend your congratulations.

Now on to the post…

A reader asked: If you enter a major contest, can you still look for an agent or is your ms. tied up until the winner is announced? Of course it’s a long shot but I hate to mislead potential agents…I’d like to hedge my bets and try for both. What’s the protocol? Help!

I think it’s a good idea to be querying agents and entering contests at the same time. You never know when lightning is going to strike, and like you said, it’s smart to be covering all the bases.

You said you “hate to mislead potential agents” but I can’t see how this would happen unless you were purposely withholding information. But you’d never do that, right? Just include a line in your query that says, “My manuscript is currently entered in XYZ contest.”

Make sure the contests you enter don’t have any stipulations preventing agented authors from being eligible to win.

If an agent agrees to represent you, then you and the agent will determine how to proceed. The agent may want to begin submitting your book to publishers right away; if it gets a contract, then you’ll probably have to withdraw from the contest. Or, you and the agent may decide to wait and see if you win, especially if you’re a finalist.

So, readers, how many of you are entering contests? Are you querying agents at the same time? What have you heard about the protocol?

Rachelle Gardner, Christian literary agent, Colorado

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


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  3. Cookie on July 5, 2009 at 10:03 AM

    >LOL and just the other day two other agents answered the same question and said they'd NEVER accept queries if you said you were in a contest with the same manuscript.

    I'm so confused now.

  4. Mariana on July 2, 2009 at 3:45 PM

    I'm really repetitive here, as I always find your advices most helpfull. Thanks as usual!

  5. Mark H. on July 2, 2009 at 8:00 AM

    >Congratulations on the book release!

  6. Dandelion on July 2, 2009 at 7:09 AM

    >I entered my novel (unfinished) into the Get Your Stiletto in the Door Contest–I figured it was a good way to get feedback on the strength of the first 35 pages. It also forced me to write a synopsis which solidfied minor plot turns and changed the direction of a major one.

  7. Robyn on July 2, 2009 at 7:07 AM

    >Congratulations to both of you. I hope that great covers. Readers look at a cover, and that helps in the decision on whether or not they want the book. The cover and the jacket copy.

    I've entered in a contest and I begin querying agents tomorrow. YAY! The rules in this particular contest, which is for writers of MG novels, say to pull out if an agent signs you. But thanks Rachelle, for reminding me to put that sentence in my query. I would have forgotten to do that.

    Again congrats! 🙂

  8. Jennifer L. Griffith on July 1, 2009 at 8:45 PM

    >CONGRATULATIONS to both agent and writer. Woohoo!

  9. Terresa on July 1, 2009 at 6:55 PM

    >Great post. Clarifies things for us newbies. I'm still working on my WIP, but my intent in *not* to enter contests, but to find an agent. I still have so much to learn. Glad I stumbled upon your blog!

  10. Anonymous on July 1, 2009 at 5:04 PM

    >Rachelle, you are so full of practical wisdome and sound advice. I really needed a little kindness and encouragement today and you were the one who came through. Many thanks–you're a doll!

  11. Rachelle on July 1, 2009 at 4:29 PM

    >I don't know, "damned if you do, damned if you don't" sounds like an awfully negative way to look at things. It's not that hard, trust me.

    Just sit tight and do nothing. If the agent offers representation, and after careful consideration you decide you really want to accept, then just do it, and withdraw from the contest. The only other option is the contest ends (and you either win or your don't) and the agent still hasn't responded, in which case everything's fine.

  12. Anonymous on July 1, 2009 at 4:24 PM

    >Thanks, Rachelle! This is the St. Martin's contest for unagented writers but I got the full request right after it was sent.
    I'd written off the agent as a no-responder but they seemed so enthusiastic, I decided not to mention the contest since it's such a long shot. Now what? Is it too late to mention the contest or should I just keep my mouth shut?

    Should I wait for the outcome, then withdraw if I'm a finalist? (I'm more interested in the agent than the contest.) Seems like you're damned if you do, damned if you don't…Any advice?

  13. Amber Argyle-Smith on July 1, 2009 at 4:16 PM

    >I've found that a contest is only as good as its judges.

    I've had some that showed me weaknesses in my work, thereafter, my work was much better.

    I've also had judges that, well, sucked. Really, I had judges that couldn't write coherent critiques, let alone judge a story.

  14. Erin on July 1, 2009 at 3:09 PM

    >I entered my MS in a contest a while back, forgot about it, and in the meantime got an agent. When I got an email from the contest that they were announcing finalists the following week, I shot off a quick email to my agent asking if I should pull my submission. She took a look at the contest rules and decided it wasn't necessary. I wasn't a finalist, but some basic agent-writer communication solved the problem.

    I would say to keep submitting to both. You can always withdraw if need be, but in this business, it seems best to hedge your bets.

    Rachelle…perhaps you could speak to how agents look upon contest creds (i.e. books that were finalists, etc.) and if writers should keep submitting b/c that might make your job easier in pitching the MS to a publisher?

  15. lynnrush on July 1, 2009 at 2:59 PM

    >Yeah, congrats!!

    Yes, I query and enter contests at the same time. I've been told that if an agent has your query/partial and you happen to final/place in a contest you should send that info to the prospective agent.

    I've done that, and it was received well. Not sure if every agent would like that, though.

  16. Rose McCauley on July 1, 2009 at 2:26 PM

    >Congrats to Deb Vogts for her debut novel and to Rachelle for her first novel pubbed as an agent! I have read Snow Melts in Spring and highly recommend it. In fact, if you leave a blog post on my blog at http://www.rosemccauley.blogspot.com during the month of July, you will be eligible to win a copy of this lovely book in my monthly drawing, so come on over and read a little more about it and give yourself a chance for a great read!

  17. Candee Fick on July 1, 2009 at 10:06 AM

    >I entered the Genesis this year with an unfinished ms and kept working toward "The End" just in case. The ms finaled and now I'm busy with rewrites and my critique group polishing it into readiness.

    By the time I get the final round feedback, I hope to be ready to start the query process. Of course, at that point, I might just wait until the ACFW Conference appointments to start. I'd hate to sit down at an appointment or meal and say "Um, I send you a query six weeks ago."

    Then again, in my dream world, one of the fabulous judges who read my entry will contact me and ask for more. Bottom line – if it came down to signing a contract or staying in the contest … that's a no-brainer.

  18. Julie Surface Johnson on July 1, 2009 at 9:51 AM

    >Congratulations to you both on the release of this great-looking book!

    Today, I just wanted to thank you, Rachelle, for your consistently excellent posts. I read them every day (along with posts from Michael Hyatt, Chip MacGregor and the folks at Books & Such). There's a wealth of great information out there.

    I'm sure there must be days when you're tempted to "sit this one out." Thanks for overcoming that temptation and blessing us with your insights and knowledge.

  19. Teri D. Smith on July 1, 2009 at 9:38 AM

    >I enter contests and query. I guess I just thought an agent would be happy to know that a book won a contest. Wouldn't it be a boost to both?

    Most contests have rules covering this in the fine print somewhere. If a book sells, then the author would immediately pull out of the contest.

  20. JStantonChandler on July 1, 2009 at 9:33 AM

    >Thank you! That helps tremendously.


  21. Rachelle on July 1, 2009 at 8:31 AM

    >JStantonChandler (Jennifer)–

    Pitch your first book and make sure it could stand alone if it needed to, but be sure to mention in your query that it's the first in a trilogy.

  22. Rachelle on July 1, 2009 at 8:30 AM

    >Jason, my prayers go out for you and your family. I can totally understand your outrage. Such a violation. And I know how devastated I'd be if somebody took my computer… it's just awful. Thanks for giving everyone the heads up this morning.

    I agree about the online backup services. I also use a Maxtor external hard drive on each of my computers that backs the entire thing up every day. The Maxtor is unlikely to be stolen, although its not 100% safe like an online backup.

    Thanks for sharing your story, and I'm so sorry you've had to go through this.

  23. Cheryl Barker on July 1, 2009 at 8:19 AM

    >Congrats, Rachelle, to both you and Debbie! Debbie will be speaking to my writers group this fall, and I'm looking forward to meeting her. All the best with the book!

  24. JStantonChandler on July 1, 2009 at 8:16 AM

    >Congratulations Deborah and Rachelle!! That's great news 🙂

    I've never thought about this topic before. Thank you for the great food for thought!

    Jason: I am so sorry to hear about the break in! Things like that make me so angry!!! I'm praying for you and your family.

    Rachelle: I have a question about queries. I have written a trilogy and I'm ready to start shopping it. Is it best to mention in the query for book one that it IS the first book in a trilogy? Or should I focus on the first book only and then mention the other two if I'm asked to submit the manuscript? I appreciate the help!


  25. Kristen Torres-Toro on July 1, 2009 at 7:44 AM

    >Oh my goodness, Jason Crawford, I am praying for you and your family! So glad y'all are okay. But that's terrible. I pray y'all will be able to rest in peace today!

  26. Kristen Torres-Toro on July 1, 2009 at 7:44 AM

    >Oh my goodness, Jason Crawford, I am praying for you and your family! So glad y'all are okay. But that's terrible. I pray y'all will be able to rest in peace today!

  27. Jason Crawford on July 1, 2009 at 6:55 AM

    >…sorry for the off-topic rant, but I'm still fuming.

  28. Jason Crawford on July 1, 2009 at 6:54 AM

    >Hey Rachelle, here's a good topic. The need for writers to use an online backup service for their writing.

    Someone broke into our home yesterday and stole our Widescreen tv, digital cameras, and both computers. I used the iMac for writing at home and the HP laptop for writing remotely and for backup. Lot of good that did, they stole them both. Luckily I had my novel on a flash drive too so I only lost about two weeks worth of work on it. But all the short stories and articles and novel ideas I've written (literally thousands of hours worth of work) are just gone. And all our digital pictures too.

    So, in the past 24 hours, I've become a big fan of Brinks, Glock, and online backup services.

  29. Lisa Jordan on July 1, 2009 at 6:48 AM

    >I have to admit that a book's cover does sway my decision to buy it. Deb's cover is beautiful. I've wanted to read this book since I met her at last year's conference. Congrats, Deb and Rachelle!

    I entered the Genesis and Touched by Love contests, but nothing recent. My Genesis entry went on to the final round, which is exciting. I won't query until I receive my feedback from the final round judges because one of the judges is for the house I want to query, although I will be meeting with her associate at the 2009 ACFW conference. When I have my editor and agent appointments at the conference, I'll let the agent and editor know I plan to query the novel, but it has been accepted as a contest finalist.

    A friend entered the Genesis contest a few years ago and withdrew from the final round because during the contest, her book was accepted for publication. She did not mind losing her entry fee.

    Entrants need to read contest guidelines and be honest in their query letters about contest entries.

  30. Krista Phillips on July 1, 2009 at 6:46 AM

    >Yeah for Deborah and Rachelle!! Congrats, both of you!

    I've entered three contests. The first, I had no queries out. The second, I queried before I'd submitted to the contest, so didn't feel it prudent to go back and bug them by saying, "Hey, uh, I entered this in a contest…"

    I've gotten excellent feedback from each of the contests I entered. The first… well let's just say it made me completely overhaul some stuff which was VERY good. The second confirmed that my overhaul had worked… I got pretty high scores and some additional ways to improve. The third covered double the # of pages as the first two, so it was nice getting input on more than just the first two chapters.

  31. Holly Bodger on July 1, 2009 at 6:40 AM

    >I was just wondering about this. I recently entered a contest and assumed it would be wise to hold off queries until when/if (fingers crossed…and toes!) I could say that I was a finalist or winner. I know it's a long shot but I thought this kind of thing would be very impressive to an agent. Am I wrong?

    I am also waiting because I've heard you can get invaluable feedback from the judges.

  32. Katie on July 1, 2009 at 6:40 AM

    >I entered the Genesis contests. But I'm not querying yet. My stories aren't quite where I want them to be. I'm hoping this fall will be when I venture down that road. 🙂

  33. Sharon A. Lavy on July 1, 2009 at 6:27 AM

    >I have entered contests and submitted the same story to agents. But not at the same time. Not because I was smart about it. It is just the way it worked out.

  34. Eileen Astels Watson on July 1, 2009 at 5:44 AM

    >First, I've got to say that's an amazing cover! I will hop over to Deborah's website to get more info on the story.

    I've entered a few contests but haven't started shopping my manuscripts yet. But I must say that being a finalist in the ACFW one this year has given me a boost to start looking for agents and editors. I write shorter stories than you work with Rachelle, so I won't be querying you, but I really appreciate all the wonderful information you offer here on your blog.

  35. sd smith on July 1, 2009 at 5:22 AM

    >This kind of happened to me a couple of weeks back, though it hasn’t involved an agent (yet).

    I sold a (fiction) story that was entered in a competition. I had forgotten that competition was for unpublished stories. I was notified that I was a finalist for the West Virginia Fiction Award the day of the deadline for everything to be in for the magazine.

    I had to scramble to call and ask if I could submit a new story for the magazine so I could stay eligible for the competition. That also meant I had to write anew story –but it all worked out.
    An agent for advice would have been handy!

  36. Megan on July 1, 2009 at 4:03 AM

    >I've had a similar problem.
    I submittied a short story to a literary journal, and then a comp came up that said "no published work to be entered". i emailed the comp and asked – techinally my piece wasn't published 'yet' but it may be between the time the comp closes. she emailed back and said as long as i got my entry in BEFORE my piece is actually published – if it is – then its fine.

    i guess, as Rachelle said, the moral is make sure that you don't withold info and just ask!