Does winning a contest help a prospective author?
January 7, 2013 | Written by Chip MacGregor
Someone wrote to ask, “Do you think it helps a beginning novelist to enter a contest or win an award?”
It’s hard to say. Certainly it can’t hurt that an author wins a Faulkner Award, or a short story writer is handed an O. Henry Prize. Doubtless that causes the publisher to pay a bit more attention to the proposal, assuming the contest is widely respected. People in the industry appreciate the level of work it takes to win a prestigious award.
But does it actually help the publisher decide whether or not to publish your novel? No. That work will have to stand on its own. Winning an award will get you noticed, and maybe help get you read by an editor, but it doesn’t make your book deal a slam dunk. I’ve had award-winners send me proposals that were well-written but not salable, so while I appreciated their talent, it didn’t translate to a book deal. Still, it’s not a bad thing for a debut novelist to read “Winner of the ____ Prize” on the cover.
Perhaps one of the issues is the award itself — there are some great contests with prestige to them, but there are also contests that don’t mean much at all. (Several writing conferences have their own awards, and in my view that just means the winner is “the best of the relatively small group of people who attended.”) I’m not putting them down, only noting that winning “best book” at the North Dakota Writing Conference won’t translate as having much prestige to an editor in New York. Meanwhile, winning the Golden Heart at RWA doesn’t mean you’re sure to land a romance book contract, but at least it means you were read and liked by significant people in the industry. So evaluating the contest prestige is necessary.
I know a number of writers are thrilled with the Genesis Award handed out by ACFW. I’m a huge fan of ACFW as an organization, and think they put on a wonderful conference, but I don’t think publishers take the Genesis competition seriously. It’s too new, and the competition hasn’t been strong enough to date. Perhaps that will change in the future, but right now I don’t think winning the Genesis does much to enhance an author’s career. Of course, that doesn’t mean an author should refrain from entering — the fact is, entering a contest might be exactly what a writer needs to get over the hump and finish the manuscript. It’s no doubt a great form of self-motivation. But does winning a writing contest generally help in terms of getting a deal? I don’t think so.
So… my turn to ask a question. What writing contests do you enter? And have you found particular contests helped your career?