Sunday, June 20, 2010

Entering Contests and Getting Awards Before Publishing Your Book

Recently, my team editor Sarah Moore received a question from a client that we weren’t sure how to answer. We asked our book proposal expert Carolyn Howard-Johnson to reply. Here is the question followed by Carolyn’s answer:

I have entered my book for The Claymore Dagger Award. Is it acceptable to continue to submit it to literary agents as well? I do not want to be unethical or anger the literary world before I even get my foot in the door. I have read the home page for the contest and all that is stated is that the manuscripts must be unpublished and not under contract. I need your professional opinion on what is acceptable. Thank you for your help.

One can't be sure that any general statement applies to every agent and every publisher, but here goes: Generally speaking an agent (and any publisher she might contact) should be thrilled to have an author whose book has already won an award and who is a savvy enough promoter to have already garnered attention.

If I were consulting with her, I'd even advise her to put the Dagger win (once it becomes a win!) in her query letter. In other words, highlight it. Shout it out! If one publisher or one agent doesn't like that, perhaps he or she wouldn't be the right agent/publisher for this author in any case.

I think the question to ask yourself is if the award is given by an individual publishing company and includes publication of the winning submission. If so—from an agent's point of view—it would only mean that it had been submitted to a publisher before they took it on. Ethically your client should be willing to let the agent with whom they signed a contract represent them for the book published by this agent, should both publisher (the one who ran the contest) and author agree to a publishing contract. The agent may choose to advise the author during the negotiations, but even if they don't, the offer should be made.

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Lisa K. said...

Thank you for such an interesting post. For me it's a very timely question because I'm a finalist in a writing contest right now. If I win, I'll get a publishing contract but if I don't, I've been trying to decide if 2nd place is good enough to use in a query letter. Thanks for some interesting food for thought on contests and awards.

Kelly said...

Thanks, Yvonne for this most informative post! I am a big believer in self-promotion as a writer. When we are unknown, we need to establish our credibility so that a publisher will consider our work. While self-promotion doesn't come naturally to many writers, remember that any promotion we do at the beginning will facilitate that eventual book launch or public reading.

Yvonne Perry said...

I'm glad you found this post helpful, Lisa and Kelly. The one thing many authors don't realize is that they must do their own promoting or else hire a publicist (very expensive). When submitting a query to a publisher, it's important to include a marketing plan. One that shows that the book has already enjoyed success as a contest winner should be a bonus.