Wednesday, March 13, 2013

So, you want to enter a contest

It’s no surprise that I’m a complete contest junkie. I think I love them because they have that feel of promise. There’s a deadline and everything. Unlike querying, you know EXACTLY when you’ll hear back. It’s very tempting.

But here’s the deal, contests are not a short cut to the front of the query line. You know how you get an agent through a contest? The same way you get an agent through a query letter. You ready for this?

The formula is really simple to say, but really, REALLY hard to do.

You write a spectacular book.

That’s it.

Spectacular. Excellent. Knock my socks off and send me to the moon in my need to join your fan-club good. You want a book that is exceptionally good.

Not okay, or good, but a book that makes people's knees weak with the need to read it. The terrible truth is that there are thousands of good unpublished books out there. Thousands. Probably tens of thousands, if you consider all the books that were trunked, or made it to the acquisition committee but never translated into the big times.

Your book has to be better than all of those.

“But Rena, my book is awesome sauce on toast, and I still can’t get any query love.”

Man, I hear you there. I’m not going to lie. This is a really hard business. Your book has to be awesome. It has to seem like something the agent can sell. And it must be written well. Like better than great. As in you’ve sent it through twenty sets of eyes, and all of them came up with “This is awesome, the only problem I saw was on page 237 where you had two spaces after a period.” This might be a touch of an exaggeration, but remember that you make your book its absolute best before you query or enter a contest.

I know this is daunting, but it’s the book that matters. You can write the world’s greatest pitch, and get a full request from every agent in a contest, but that’s not going to translate into representation if your book isn’t awesome.

I hated this advice when I first started querying, but it’s absolutely true. Requests are not representation. There are no gimmicks. Your book must be spectacular.

Now, having said that, it doesn’t hurt to have a really stellar pitch and a spectacular query letter.

In the end though, it’s the book that will get you the attention you’re hoping for.

I know I hated this advice when I was getting started, but I came around to it in the end (got enough partial rejections to “get it” I guess). So I’m curious what advice did you hate getting that turned out to be completely true and eventually useful?


  1. Very true, good advice should be stated again and again!

  2. Not to do with writing, but my mum kept telling me to put my shoulders back. Now 45, I look at my posture and I thank her for that, although it drove me MAD at the time because I took it as criticism of my stance and an invasion of my privacy!

  3. It wasn't the book writing that bothered me, but the query writing. Hated it!!!! Still do!!!! And I know I'll have to do more before I die. That's the worst part, lol. Thank God for Elizabeth Seckman! If not for her, I'd still be working on that stupid letter. :)

  4. Great advice. :) I can't think of any advice I've gotten that I didn't like. Although I agree with Celeste, I hate writing queries!

  5. well, your book is fantastic!
    i'm almost done (darn day job & housewife duties!)
    and i cant wait to tell you about all the wonderfulness sure to come your way!

  6. Umm. I mean, I only got the advice once and I did it, but it felt daunting, and that was, "Rewrite your book."


    Did that, and I love it now. haha.


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