Should I Enter that Contest?

Today marks the announcement of which entries were chosen for Sun vs. Snow (see them on and I’m grateful to have been given the opportunity to mentor three amazing entries for #TeamSnow.  With several great contests coming up in March – May, there’s something I though I should address.

One thing that comes up a lot with writers is: Should I enter that contest? Something I see even more is “Should I enter another contest?” While I’m such a contest-lover that the answer is usually a resounding “YES!”, there are a few things to consider before hitting “send.”

  1. Is the manuscript really ready? I know you’ve spent weeks polishing that first page and pitch or query letter, but did the entire manuscript get that same TLC? You don’t want agents to get ecstatic to read a full manuscript only to discover that half of it isn’t properly edited.
  2. Has it been featured in another contest recently? Some contest hosts will ask you not to submit in this situation. Some will pass your entry up to give someone else a chance. But this is something you should be thinking of on your own. If you have recently been featured in a contest where 7 agents represent your genre, and 6 of them are doing this contest, too – all you’re really doing is fueling your ego and taking a spot from someone else. Query that seventh agent directly.
  3. Do I want to work with these agents? Have I already queried them? This is similar to #2. If you’ve already queried every agent who represents your genre, you don’t need a contest to jump to the head of their reading queue. Just wait. There will be another contest.
  4. How many times have the contest hosts seen this entry? The #1 advice you’ll hear to ease the stress of querying is “write another book.” This is true of contests, too. If you’ve submitted the same book to fifteen contests, and you haven’t made significant revisions, and it’s never been chosen – I’m sorry to say, but it’s probably time to move on to another manuscript. I’ve seen people say things like “Well, my book just isn’t a contest book.” Maybe that’s true – maybe there are nuances that are impossible to convey with the first 250 words. But more likely, there is a reason it’s getting passed up. The worst disservice a written can do for themselves is assume that there’s something wrong with everyone not choosing their book. Get a writer friend or a couple to read over the first page (or even the first chapter) and give feedback. Listen, and incorporate their suggestions.
Personally, I submitted my first manuscript to four contests. I was chosen as an alternate for Sun vs. Snow last year. Then I didn’t get into Pitch Madness. I made it to the agent round of Nestpitch and got zero requests. When PitchSlam came around, I sat out, because all of the women’s fiction agents involved had done Nestpitch or I’d already queried, and I was knee deep in revisions. Then I made it into Query Kombat, which was my final contest (and I was completely destroyed in Round 2). I was trying to gear myself up to enter my second manuscript in Pitch Wars when I got The Call. But note that there are slight changes in each of those entries. The whole time, I was revising, getting feedback, and revising again. That’s the way to do it. If you’re submitting the same entry over and over, you’re only hurting yourself.
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One Comment

  1. Excellent points to consider. Personally I shudder with embarrassment when I think of the two contests I entered when my MS was not quite ready. Actually, the first contest that I submitted to – it wasn't just not ready – it was dire. Writing is a learning process that never stops and while I knew that I knew not a lot, I didn't realize how much I didn't know <hope that makes sense.

    I support that a manuscript should have it's time and then be retired from contests, possibly to explore other avenues. If a manuscript pops up year after year, it makes good sense to move on, write another and maybe submit that, if taking part in contests is something enjoyable.

    And yes to the agents – if people have already submitted to them it'd be a better use of their time to wait for the outcome and focus on something else in the meantime. Not that I am a fountain of knowledge on slush comps, quite the opposite, but the two I took part in were fun. Although they did result in my becoming obsessive, who knew I was such a good stalker?!

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