There’s something that every editor and agent wished authors knew about listing contest wins in a query letter/for a manuscript; they’re not going to necessarily make the manuscript more appealing to us, more marketable and often contest credits won’t make us take a closer look. Probably some of you are reading this and are fairly surprised, thinking that entering contests is one of the things aspiring authors are told to do. Well, sure you are, but that’s because most of the time, the people who tell you that are hoping you’ll enter a few contests where feedback is offered, and you’ll be able to incorporate that feedback into improving, if not your entered manuscript, then your craft on the whole. There are a few notable exceptions to that–such as the Golden Heart and other big contests where the goal is to get your polished manuscript in front of an agent and editor, and a win in those contests is quite noteable.
Here’s the hard truth: agents and editors know, from years of judging contests, that some contests can bring forth amazing entries, where the winner must clearly shine and the winning manuscript is a true gem, but other contests (and an increasingly larger number of contests) have too few entries and so, choosing a winner is not just difficult but nearly impossible, and can, at times, become a matter of choosing the best of the…not so well-written.
As an example, a few years ago, I had agreed to be the final judge in an RWA chapter contest. Somehow, I ended up in conversation with an author who was judging the first round of the same category I was to be the final round judge of. She commented on how poorly written the entries she was judging were, but that I could rest easy as she was scoring them low enough that they wouldn’t make it to the final round. But those very same entries were, in fact, exactly what I ended up judging. The contest had such a low number of entries, apparently, that low initial scores or not, those were the only ones available for the final round of judging. It’s not an ideal situation for the contest, the editor/agent judging or the authors who have entered.
All that said, I don’t want to discourage authors from either entering contests or listing contest wins in query letters. Because there are many excellent contests out there. And entering/winning contests can show an author’s dedication to his/her craft. But I tell you this so you’ll understand why your prospective agent or editor might not believe a contest win makes your manuscript more marketable.