Thursday, December 13, 2007

Seeking an Agent Through Contests

I recently completed my first novel, which I submitted for a contest. The first prize is a publishing contract and the contest organizers require that the book submitted not be under contract. I am wondering though, should I wait until the contest results are announced in January to start looking for an agent? Or should I try to find an agent now, and then ask them (if I am so blessed to get one) not to submit my work until the contest results are out?

Get out there now and look! Since I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to contests I’m not exactly sure which one this might be. I can tell you, however, that most contests that come with publishing contract in hand come with a non-negotiable publishing contract. Wouldn’t you rather have an agent on your side to try and turn that into something that can be negotiated? Maybe even sell it to another house? If you don’t find an agent before you win the contest, you can then use the contest to help you find one. However, I would start the hunt now.

Again, I want to defer to readers on this one since I know many of you have been in similar situations. If so, how did you handle it?



green_knight said...

most contests that come with publishing contract in hand come with a non-negotiable publishing contract

And every time I read the small print, I wonder why people enter them in the first place. If the first place is a boilerplate contract for a smallish advance, then what makes this 'contest' (for which I am supposed to pay an entry fee, and often a fairly steep one) better than simply sending it to the slushpile? It gets read by the same people, and if it's good enough, it'll go forward - but if I go through the slush, I get the chance to involve an agent and vet the contract.

Sounds like the better deal to me...

Lorraine_Bartlett said...

Since the odds of actually winning the contest are so high, and the contract not to your favor, keep looking for an agent. Even finaling in a BIG contest will only get you so far. I finaled in the Malice Domestic contest and that book is still sitting on my shelf, unpublished.

Kimber An said...

From what I've seen entering contests is paying to get into the slushpile, which I can do for free. Therefore, the only time I enter contests is if there is a promise that I will receive constructive critiques by the judges. The way I see it, that is what I'm paying for because the odds of actually winning are so high.

Anonymous said...

There are some legit contests out there that promise publication. However, some of the new ones produce a product that is so inferior it's an embarrasment. Pretty cover, but coloring book paper inside. Makes regular paperbacks look high-end.
And they own the book. So you're stuck.
You should have an agent.

Christie Craig said...

I'm not very familiar with contests that offer contracts. But I think Jessica offered some great advice, look for an agent now.

I am a firm believer in contests and since I sold twice and got an agent as a result of contests, I congratulate you for entering. Sure there are deals you shouldn’t take, but you won’t maybe you won’t know until you get close enough to check them out.

A smart writer once told me that this business is too tough to pass on any avenue to achieve publication. I found that to be good solid advice.


Josephine Damian said...

I'm wondering if this is the St. Martin's Best First Novel in a Mystery Series contest?

I've seen first hand how these winners were wooed by top agents
(I sat in the bar eavesdropping on Donald Maass as he pitched himself to a contest winner).

I've seen some of these winners go on to greater things - more books in the series published (for hopefully better money) and more awards thrown at them. I've also seen winners tank after their prize winner came out in print, and how their second book was rejected by the publisher - at least they had that 10K prize money to show for their trouble.

I've also seen one previously published mystery writer who was dropped by their publisher due to low sales, and tried to pass himself off as a "first time" unpublished novelist in order to win that St. Martin's prize (tsk, tsk).

Re: the St. Martin's, I've often wondered if the winner had a choice to turn down the award (and St. Martin's publication) and shop it else where.

Christine: Great advice!

JohnO said...

I was actually wondering if this was the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, which I entered. However, I'm still out shopping for an agent.

Why? Because that one is picking a 1-in-5,000 winner. So if I'm the lucky one who wins $25,000 and a publishing contract, great. If not, I'll still need an agent.

Phoenix said...

This could be the Amazon Breakthrough Novel contest, with a $25,000 advance (contract is not negotiable) and no entry fee. The rules there say if you make it through to the semi-finals (up to 1000 manuscripts can be declared such) in January, then Penquin holds exclusive first-pub rights and must be negotiated with first either until the ms is eliminated (March 2 or later) or until April 22 if the ms is a Finalist.

Shouldn't be a problem for an agent to negotiate first rights of review/publish, but if you're submitting the ms directly to a publisher during the time it's held up in the contest, that could create some ill will if everyone jumps on the novel at once.

Keep things in perspective, though. Odds are, with a recently completed first novel, you won't have an agent by January anyway, even if you started submitting to agents last week. Even if your query letter is read before the holidays and a partial is requested, your partial probably won't be read for another month, and then it'll be another month or two before a requested full is read. Things moving faster than that are an exception.

green_knight said...


A smart writer once told me that this business is too tough to pass on any avenue to achieve publication. I found that to be good solid advice.

A number of career writers have told me the opposite: look carefully where you are going and decide whether it fits in with your career plan or not.

Michele Dunaway said...

Knowing Christie, I think she didn't mean the silly avenues. There are those to be avoided at all costs. But Harlequin often does contests, and then will read the work. Sometimes they reject, other times they buy. There is no fee to enter. If you have a book geared for them, by all means get it into a contest. It's a guaranteed read if you get to the end.

bTW, I never won any contests and sold the first book I wrote, which took 26th in a three way tie in the only contest I entered, so pretty much dead last.

Heather B. Moore said...

Worst case scenario is that you have an agent's offer in one hand and a winning contest entry in the other.

Not too shabby.

Christie Craig said...

Boy, I wish these things came with an Edit button for comments! (Or maybe I shouldn’t type while my cat is vying for my attention.)

I’m in total agreement that are some raw deals out there for writers and some have Writer’s Beware stamped all over them. I stated in my paragraph above that quote, (which had a typo in it, too. Yikes! Kitty is locked out of the office for good now,) “Sure there are deals you shouldn’t take.” And it goes with out saying that one has to know where she/he is going in this business.

What I actually meant to say, instead of “achieving publication” was… “A smart writer once told me that this business is too tough to pass on any avenue to SEEK publication.” And by that, she meant to enter contests, make appointment with editors at conferences, make appointment with agents, query agents, query editors.

Sorry for the opps.

Angie Fox said...

I don't know much about these types of contests, but I do have a friend who entered a small press contest, won, and is having her book published through them. Sometimes, she questions whether it is a blessing or a curse.

She did not get an agent. She accepted the basic contract and has been dealing with a less-than-professional publishing experience as a result. I'm convinced she'd fare better with an agent on her side.

I would definitely query if I were you. Then, if you find an agent before the contest is over, that agent can advise you as to what to do if you win, or if you don't. And if you don't find an agent before the end of the contest, that's fine too, but it sure doesn't hurt to put yourself and your book out there.

Jennifer L. Griffith said...

Great advice, Jessica. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.