I recently won a small contest. First prize in each category is a guaranteed full read by a particular agent and a particular editor. I know promising to receive a full manuscript isn’t the same as promising to LIKE the book, but I am very excited to have this opportunity. How do I go about submitting my material? Do I send a regular query letter and say, “Oh, by the way, will you read this?” Do I send the full manuscript and label it “Requested material”? Or do I email the whole thing and say, “Here ya go!”? Also, in your opinion, what is the time limit on things like this? Do I need to send in my manuscript right away, or just sometime before Christmas, or do I put the whole thing under my bed for six months just on principle?
First of all let me send along my congratulations. Any time you get a full read through a contest, an auction win, or a query request you’re being given a fabulous opportunity. So let me go ahead and see if I can answer all of your questions.
When submitting any material at all, in any of the instances I mention above, you always need to include your query letter. Once the material gets requested, the query becomes a cover letter but should include the same basic information. I would start out the letter by mentioning why you are sending it. Something along the lines of, “as per your request,” or “I was thrilled to win the contest, and as per their rules I’m sending along,” will work sufficiently. Then you’ll need to include your title, genre, blurb, and bio. Basically the rest of the information that appears in your standard query.
If you’re not sure whether the agent or editor would prefer an email or snail mail submission, I would ask the contest coordinators. They might have a set of guidelines for their winners to follow. If not, I would send a professional email to the agent or editor asking what she prefers.
While I can’t guarantee the agent or editor will react in a super-timely manner (that’s going to depend on her schedule), I would submit the material within a few weeks of winning. Some contests have a timeline of when you have to submit material by, but I think four to eight weeks is longer than you should need. While certainly you want to show your best work, it also tends to throw our schedules off when a contest submission arrives months and months after the contest has ended. Also, as more time goes on, we tend to forget what made us request the material in the first place, and are less excited about receiving it.