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When Awards, Nominations and Publishing Credits Become a Hinderance

In any query I’m always going to tell you to flaunt those awards, nominations and publishing credits. Did you win a Golden Heart, were you nominated for an Agatha, was your previous book published with Random House? Tell the agent. It could make a difference between a reject and a request. That could be the one thing that pushes an agent over if she’s on the fence with your query.

That being said, there is a time when these credits no longer work to your advantage and that’s when time ticks on. A Golden Heart finalist from 2011 only tells me that you have spent five years working on the same book and haven’t been able to move on to something else. It also worries me that in five years you still haven’t found an agent for that book. It’s probably not a project I want to go near.

Was your last publishing credit from 1988? What have you been doing for the past 25 years? Why haven’t you been able to sell again. This is a red flag for me.

Have you been writing this bestseller for ten or fifteen years? Since I’m in this business to build career authors that isn’t going to excite me either.

I don’t think there’s an exact time period when something goes from being an asset to being a red flag, but I do think one to two years after the award/publication date/nomination is probably all you have. After that (and even at the two-year mark) you’re going raise more questions than you will get requests.

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5 comments

  1. Gack! Another thing to add to the already incessant ticking of the clock when querying. Mind you, I guess that’s also an indication of how long you should probably be shopping a book for anyway. After that it’s probably time to retire to the drawer for a while. The next book should be written and ready to hit the query rounds by then.

  2. I must admit I have been thinking something similar about some of the classes and workshops that are offered.

    If your winning awards, why aren’t the publishers/agents voting on the final rounds signing your work?
    What can you really teach? How to win a contest, I don’t want to win contests, I want to publish my book.

    I’ve already questioned if entering contests is worth the money it costs. The more I think about it, the more I think, for the majority of people you’re paying for a partial critique.
    I think I’ll enter the contest for my chapter, more to support them, than for any chance the award.

    1. Hollie, contests aren’t for everyone. I’ve become a lot more selective about what I enter.

      But to give you something to think about… sometimes the entry that wins may not be picked up by the judging editor/agent because they don’t represent the genre, already have a similar one on their books or any of the reasons they reject work from the slush pile – it doesn’t always reflect the quality of the entry.

      When thinking about entering a contest also consider who the final judge is – it’s a great way to ‘jump the slush pile’ and get your work in front of someone you’d like to publish/represent you (and sometimes get their feedback). You don’t even have to win for this – just final.

      And yes, you can look at it that you are paying for a partial critique, but also remember you are getting anonymous feedback on your writing. Depending who is judging the work (readers or writers) that can give you insight into your writing. I use them to balance what my crit partners tell me – because my CPs will have often read my work multiple times and it is good to get a fresh set of eyes on my writing.

      Before entering a contest I think about what I want to achieve next for my writing – and whether the contest will help to achieve that.

  3. To Blythe and Hollie, Here are my thoughts on contests: It’s a tough singular slog to keep writing without something you can take with you, something that gives you the confidence and pleasure to keep writing. And there are few metrics by which one can judge oneself along the way. Outside of critique groups–and many are questionable–literary contests are the only widespread reinforcing agents available to authors.
    Think of this: Your most recent award places you as one of five finalists in a national contest that includes four New York Times/ USA Today bestselling authors as your co-finalists. You, with no agent, no publisher, no marketing staff, and maybe a good editor and maybe not–you with your little one-horse, self-published operation are writing at or close to their level, and certainly as well as or better than many of the client authors in literary agencies (keep in mind, they compete in the same contests). It happens, and the return on investment, so to speak, is profound.
    So I strongly suggest using contests as vehicles to maintain your confidence and satisfaction and everything positive about writing that you love. Yes, once in a while query an agent, but don’t let the negatives undermine what you know about yourself. When you read extensively and write contest-winning manuscripts you are immune from rejections. Because now you know you are good, really good.

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