Contests cost both time and money to enter. Not to mention effort. Are they worth it? Yes, they are. Becoming a finalist is one way to get noticed. Sometimes the first prize awarded the winner is publication with a certain publisher.
But will a contest win always lead to publication? No. I have been and continue to be a judge for many different contests, and here are three reasons why I can tell you that a contest final, or even a win, won’t always lead to publication:
1.) You never know what entries the contest will attract. Even the same contest will attract different levels of entries from year to year. One year, all three finalists may find publication. The next year, perhaps none of the finalists will be published — at least with those entries. What happens in the publishing world itself depends on quality, timing, and other factors.
2.) Contest judges consider entries against each other and have no need to consider what’s available on the market.When judges rate and rank entries, they are not comparing those to all other books in the category currently available to readers. But when an editor is judging your manuscript for possible publication, she must consider every other book in the category at her house and published by others, ranging from the unknown but talented author to the perennial bestseller. So while your entry may win against the immediate competition in a contest, the going is tougher at a publishing house.
3.) Contest judges are reading based on merit alone, not what is marketable. A story that is totally out of the box may be amusing, entertaining, well-crafted, and could win a contest. But this type of proposal is more difficult to market in CBA than some of the more popular categories. A contest win may help an unusual book get noticed, but finding an agent to offer enthusiastic representation and then a publisher to take a chance on something way out of the box is a different exercise than winning a contest. For that matter, even a sweet-spot CBA story may be difficult to market for various reasons. See Point 2.
This post is not meant to discourage contest entries, but to bring a semblance of realism to the process. Indeed, I have found wonderful, talented authors through contests. So keep entering. Just be strategic and know that God is in control.
Have you ever placed in or won a contest? What happened?
Did you find an agent or publisher through a contest?
What contest do you think is the best to enter?