Do writing contests really help launch careers?
There are several articles out there which discuss the benefits and drawbacks of writing contests. During a workshop on Agent/Publisher pitches, I had the fortune to ask a D. Alan Lewis, 2010 finalist of Killer Nashville’s Claymore Award, about his experiences with this competition for mystery novelists sponsored by the Killer Nashville Mystery Writer’s Conference.
Lewis said that although he did not win the competition and the publication prize, that being a Claymore Finalist was instrumental in securing his publishing contract for his first novel, The Blood in the Snowflake Garden.
He emphasized that you just have to know the worth of winning or being a finalist in order to make the most your position. It is very worth it to enter these competitions, because mentioning this to publishers and agents in your query letter or during your pitch, often can garner your novel some notice. Nothing is a guarantee, but if you let an agent/publisher know that your novel was a finalist in a competition with over 600 other novels, it tells them that yours has been pre-screened and vetted by the writing community.
Prior to the Claymore Dagger competition, Lewis had written to several agents with little interest in his first novel. After he became a finalist and included this in his queries and pitches, agents and publishers started asking for his manuscript. The contest didn’t get him published, but it helped him to get into that next round/step where actual eyes were on the manuscript.
Think of mentioning the contest as that little red exclamation mark next to urgent emails- its puts you that much ahead of the other novels awaiting representation/publication.