In your posting on Monday, Oct. 1, you mentioned that you knew a lot of writers are entering contests, and some writers are winning awards. You said these awards are “really exciting” to agents.
This sparked some questions for me. How do agents view these awards on a more nuanced level than regarding them as good news? What would be the best way to present the book along with the awards? When an agent becomes aware that a writer has won some awards, how does that change the agent’s perception of the writer?
[The author also asked how to proceed if his query has been turned down by agents, but now won an award.]
First, let me clarify that what I actually said in my October 1 post: “Many of you regularly enter contests and get recognition from agents and editors, which is really exciting.” And what I meant by that is that the recognition you are getting from agents and editors can be very exciting. I had to actually check this because saying that contest wins can be very exciting to an agent didn’t sound like me. I was happy to know I hadn’t switched personalities since that time. So what exactly did I mean? And what really is my opinion on contests?
Actually awards are only moderately exciting to this agent. It truly depends on the award. An Agatha, Edgar, RITA, Golden Heart, Nebula, Pulitzer Prize, etc.? Yes, absolutely, all very exciting. But there are a lot of awards out there. I think every single romance chapter has a contest and I think every single conference has a writing award. Let me tell you honestly, I’ve judged an awful lot of those contests and I will say that more often than not I’m picking the best of the bunch, and that doesn’t mean that any of them were any good. Sometimes, honestly, it’s the best of the worst.
Does that mean I think you should stop entering contests or letting agents and editors know about your wins? Absolutely not. Keep entering and keep spreading the news, but as a client of mine, Angie Fox, recently suggested in a comment on the blog, when she entered contests she did so with an eye toward who was judging. If none of the judges represented or bought the type of work she was writing, she didn’t feel the need to enter. Her goal was to get their attention, not just rack up wins.
When it comes down to it, you could have racked up 25 different awards and I don’t really care. The only thing I care about is whether you’ve written a great book that I can fall in love with and really, really, really want to sell.
But to answer your questions more specifically. Mention your awards in your query letter. You can toss them in at the end with your bio or mention it at the beginning as your opener. Do what you think works for you. How an agent perceives them is obviously going to differ from agent to agent. I do think the one thing awards or contest entries show me is that you are very serious about your writing and intend to really invest the time and energy it takes to become an author, and not just a writer. As for the agents who already passed on your work: Let them go. Think of them with your next project, but a contest win (unless it’s major) is unlikely to make a difference at this point.
I do want to add that I think there are many advantages to contests and I know a number of our own clients have spent and do still spend a lot of energy in the contest circuit. I think how a contest can be used to your benefit can best come from them, and I hope they (and others, of course) will pop in and share.