Saturday, July 03, 2010

How Would Winning a Contest Affect Getting a Publisher or Agent in the Future?

Many of you know that I am an Ann Landers fan. I came to understand how valuable the questions from her readers and her own pithy answers to those readers were to living a less dysfunctional life when I was responsible for writing headlines for her column and for editing them down to the space we had available for said column in the what we then called the society section of the Salt Lake Tribune.

Now, I love to run occasional columns "A la Ann Landers." For writers. From writers. About writers. I hope you find them as much fun as I do.


Hi, Carolyn,

My team mate Sarah Moore and I have a question from a client (read below). I've never had this question before and I'm not sure how to answer. It seems to me that a book having won an award would be one that a house would want to publish. However, to be sure, I am checking with you to see what insight you might have.

Thanks so much,

Yvonne Perry
Writers in the Sky Creative Writing Services
Author of More Than Meets the Eye


As you know I have entered my book for The Claymore Dagger Award. My question is if it is 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 I have read the home page for the contest and all that is stated is that the manuscripts must be unpublished and not under contract.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 your client 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.

One question for an author to ask in a situation like this is:

Is the award given by an individual publishing company that 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 sign a contract represent them for the book published by this publisher, 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. After all, the agent would have already invested time and effort into that author.

Sometimes we authors look to legalities, but it's lots better if we put ethics first. That means putting ourselves into the shoes of an agent and treating them with as much consideration as we would want to be treated.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of This Is the Place; Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered; Tracings, a chapbook of poetry; and how to books for writers including, The Frugal Book Promoter: How To Do What Your Publisher Won't; The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success; and Great Little Last Minute Editing Tips for Writers . She is also the author of the Amazon Short, "The Great First Impression Book Proposal". She has three FRUGAL books for retailers including A Retailer’s Guide to Frugal In-Store Promotions: How To Increase Profits and Spit in the Eyes of Economic Downturns with Thrifty Events and Sales Techniques. Some of her other blogs are, a blog where authors can recycle their favorite reviews. She also blogs at all things editing, grammar, formatting and more at The Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In Editor . If your followers at Twitter would benefit from this blog post, please use the little Green widget to let them know about this blog:

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