All about writing contests

by | Dec 17, 2009 | Literary Agents | 83 comments

What should writers know about contests?

The absolute most important advice I can give you is this: read and understand the fine print.

UPDATED 6/1/19

Understand what you’re entering

Know what you’re entering. Know what happens to your work in the event you win (or even/especially if you don’t win). Make sure you’re completely comfortable with it.

For instance, in the event you win a contest, are you comfortable with the prize and what is often a completely non-negotiable publishing contract? Do you want to try for a better deal by going through the traditional publishing route and finding an agent?

There’s no correct answer here: it’s up to you. But make sure a) you know what happens when you enter/win and b) you can live with it. And think very long and very hard about anything that could tie up the rights to your work. And when in doubt: don’t enter.

Will contests help you find a literary agent?

Now: do agents and other publishing types look favorably on successful contest wins/finalists?

Here’s the thing about that. Even the biggest writing competitions have… what, a few thousand entries? Agents get 10,000+ queries a year and take on maybe a handful of clients. Going strictly by the numbers, an agent’s inbox is far more competitive than any writing contest. Accordingly, many agents take contest wins with a grain of salt.

If you win or are a finalist in a large contest by all means, include in the query as a publishing credit. But I wouldn’t necessarily call it a difference-maker in a query. It can definitely help, and there are some genres where certain important contests are taken very seriously, but it’s not usually something that’s going to make or break you.

And if you’re a Semi-Finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough: I wouldn’t mention it. Every time the Amazon contest rolls around agents are suddenly besieged with Amazon Breakthrough semi-finalists, and while yes, it’s a good achievement that you should absolutely be proud of, to us it seems like there are several bazillion semi-finalists.

Writing contests can help

All that cautionary stuff aside: I’m not down on writing contests! I know how hard and lonely it is for writers who are struggling with the Am I Crazies and are wondering about that big question: am I any good?

Writing contests can provide that crucial validation from people who don’t know you and hey, they like your work! It can be a real confidence booster, and that can make all the difference in the world.

So definitely consider entering writing contests, just make sure you do it with eyes wide open.

If you have questions about specific contests: don’t forget that discussion forums are a great place to sound out your fellow writers. Experienced smart people are standing by.

Need help with your book? I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and coaching!

For my best advice, check out my guide to writing a novel (now available in audio) and my guide to publishing a book.

And if you like this post: subscribe to my newsletter!

Art: The Winner Of The Derby Race by James Pollard


  1. Elaine 'still writing' Smith

    I fyou enter the competition it is the "bird in the hand…" situation.
    Plus you get an indisputable credit to put in your next letter to an agent and a stronger arguing position for future deals.
    Happy! Holly! Merry! Berry!
    Teacher about to break up for the hols?

  2. Susan Quinn

    I've been thinking about this as well, so thank you for the timely post!

    I've been wondering if I should be trying to write/enter contests to build up some pub creds, or just spend that time on polishing my MS (and writing the next one)?

    I'm unpublished, with no writing credits.

    My inclination is to see the contests as a distraction from what I want to be doing (working on the MS), but I'm concerned that might be short sighted.

  3. Kristi

    I wouldn't enter a contest where you were bound to a publishing contract for the reasons Nathan mentioned. The contests I would enter are agent driven contests because they have the potential to catch an agent's interest. Querytracker has had some good ones and Nathan's first paragraph contest is just pure fun.

  4. Dara

    I agree with Kristi's comment–I wouldn't enter (probably) if I was bound to a non-negotiable publishing contract. I tend to like ones that are more agent driven–or ones that are nationally renown like RWA's Golden Heart.

  5. Jille

    From the page on Amazon, it doesn't seem you are bound to accept the contract; you just can't negotiate it if you choose to accept it. But the wording indicates you have the option of declining. But Penguin owns first rights until June 30, 2010 so you wouldn't be able to sell it to any other house until after that date.

  6. Anonymous

    I read the fine print, just out of curiosity. I think the thing that scares me most is not the fixed advance or even the non-negotiation clause, but rather those two things in combination with the part where your ROYALTIES are entirely TBA.

    "Penguin will determine the royalty rates to be paid under the publishing contract"

    So basically, they could decide you get some ridiculously small royalty amount and there's nothing you can do about it?

  7. LynnRush

    Great post!

    I think contests are important for a couple reasons. You get feedback from the judges. And it's often really helpful because those judging, even the first round, are often published or trained to judge. . . so the feedback is pretty good.

    Another reason is getting your work in front of editors and agents. The Launching a Star contest had many requests (fulls/partials) from editors. Not many from agents from what I could tell, but still. . . .

    Anyway, that's my opinion. Thanks for the post.

  8. Mira

    I appreciate this post. I appreciate the warning about the fine print! I bet lots of people don't really look at that, in their excitement.

    I also like your acknowledgement that getting some positive feedback in this business is rare, so contests can help keep someone's confidence up.

    In terms of valuing the winner, I will add that if the winner is chosen by popular vote, that's something to look at – it may mean it's highly marketable. Assuming the winner doesn't have thousands of friends. Which can happen, I hear.

    For me, I love contests. I love to enter them. I get all competitive and ambitious. Most important, for me, I write best to deadlines and external pressures – it helps me push past all my blocks.

    On the other hand, when I lose the contest, I get suicidal.

    So, it's a mixed bag for me.

    That said, when's YOUR next contest, Nathan. Let's have another one. Those are fun. 🙂

  9. Nathan Bransford


    You're in luck – I'm planning a contest the first week of January.

  10. Anonymous

    Nathan, there are a lot of blog contests (short shorts) not run by agents but by other writers on their personal blogs. Can I assume it would do more harm than good to mention that you won something so small? Is it possible that entering one is something you might want to hide?

    I guess my question is where the cut off is–that line between oh, that's nice, and how pathetic. Same for small, nonpaying online journals. How do you know whether an agent/editor will think it's nice or pathetic?

    I do like your last point about getting positive feedback. I think that may be the best way to look at both contests and online journals.

    Great post. Thanks.

  11. T. Anne

    It's really difficult to get an agent. Honest to God great works have been dissed by many an agent prior to their "over night success" so yes, I feel comfortable saying even good writers get overlooked. If a contest affords you a boost in the public arena I say go for it. The truth is most of us have more than one manuscript, or ten, milling around on our hard-drives. Yes, I would sacrifice one of my 'paper children' and risk a less than stellar publishing contract. At least then I'd have a publishing contract and maybe a foot in the door.

  12. Nathan Bransford


    Good question, and tricky to answer. I think you could probably ask 10 agents and they'd all have different answers, so I think you'd just have to use your best judgment.

    Although if in doubt I wouldn't mention it simply because it's probably not going to be the difference between a pass or a manuscript request and it's best to err on the side of brevity. But I wouldn't worry about seeming pathetic or anything like that. We know people are just including whatever they feel is relevant.

  13. reader

    "…we're suddenly besieged with Amazon Breakthrough semi-finalists…"

    I imagine that is annoying, but it's probably no more annoying than regular slush. Mostly, I'd think writers are looking to add anything worthy to the their credentials paragraph (in a query), because they think that's what agents want.

  14. Kimberly Kincaid

    I will admit that some of the best drafting I've done (with results that stuck, even) came in the months before the RWA Golden Heart deadline. For some reason, I was just more driven to really get it done *and* get it done well. Granted, that's kind of the Grand Poobah of romance contests in that it's quite well known. Which is exactly why I entered my MS. Oh, that and no fine-print contract :)That kinda makes me want to cry, to be honest. And not in a good way. Even though the mere concept of a publishing contract makes me all "squeee" with giddiness, the idea of a "one size fits all" contract makes me nervous. My work isn't one size fits all. I don't want my contract to be, either.

    I get that the "bones" of a lot of contracts are the same- don't get me wrong. The concept is just weird to me.

    I've heard that some agents like to see credentials like this because they feel it "backs up" the fact that you can write, so to speak. Perhaps it's just me, but I'd rather let my query do that all by itself. Either that, or I'm just not ready with that I've got and need to hit that drawing board again.

    Just my 2/c…thanks for an insightful post, Nathan 🙂 And for reminding people to read the fine print.

  15. Mira

    Nathan, really? That's wonderful. I'll look forward to it. 🙂

    Fun start to the New Year. 🙂

  16. Nathan Bransford


    I agree and I don't look down on anyone for doing it, I'd just personally recommend against including it. It's the manuscript that's going to be the difference-maker anyway, and since we hear from so many people with the same qualification its impact is kind of lost.

  17. Michael Goodell

    A year ago I would have said, who cares about fine print, if you get a chance to get published, take it. I've since learned that sometimes getting published is even a greater disaster than not getting published . . .

  18. Steve & Sarah

    Great advice, thanks for detailing the warning signs to look out for.

  19. Anonymous

    as above, good advice. great blogg, forum thingy you got going on here

  20. Myrna Foster

    You're not going to tell us what kind of contest you're having?

    I like entering contests, but, like you mentioned, there can be risks involved. If a writer needs validation and wouldn't mind a bit of extra money, writing shorter pieces for magazines is a good way to hone your craft and work with editors. I'm not saying it's for everyone, but it's been a positive experience for me.

    And I checked out your forums–great addition!

  21. Anonymous

    I prefer to enter The Big Contest, that is–submitting to agents and publishers. That's the real contest! Win that, and you're in the game for real.


    Sooooo….anyone know anything about the Delacorte First Novel contest? I didn't read the fine print…I just sent those babies out…

  23. Thermocline

    But Paula said my writing was, "just fabulous!" What do you mean you're passing on my query?

  24. Kristi

    I want to add that I think conference contests are good too as far as getting good feedback (and you're typically not bound to a contract).

    I was selected as a judge for a large regional writing conference in 2010 and it'll be great experience to be on the other side of the table 🙂

  25. Kelly Bryson

    I submitted a short story to a small ezine, and, though they didn't publish it, the personalized response was very calming to my crazies, which are kind of tame for a short story, but wild and woolly about my novel. One sentence to say all of that:) I appreciate the fine-print advice. -Kelly

  26. ryan field

    "And think very long and very hard about anything that could tie up the rights to your work."

    So many times writers are so eager to get published they ignore this. I've been guilty of doing it myself. If you know what you're getting into and you're willing to live with it no matter how it turns out, it's fine. But there's nothing more frustrating than signing a contract that doesn't have a non-exclusive clause and ties up your work.

  27. Terry

    Thank you for this. It's something I've been pondering. I worry about what rights I may be giving up.

    You said there are "some genres where certain important contests are taken very seriously." Can you divulge which contests these are and for which genres, or would you rather not?

  28. Southpaw

    Good advice about the tiny little print.

  29. Anonymous

    Totally off subject here. But I'm having a hard time reading your new blog format featuring the light gray print. Maybe it's just me.

  30. Lisa Desrochers

    I'm one of the bazillion YA paranormal writers out there and this summer, while waiting on several agents who had my mss, I entered a few RWA contests. (Most of them give feedback on the entered portion of you mss.) My mss did well and ended up garnering two editor requests for full mss from editors at major houses. By that time my new agent already had my mss on submission and we had editor interest, so I sent the requests along to her.

    I think the feedback from smaller contest is worthwhile, and the likelihood of getting your work in front of a agent or editor is much better.

  31. Amy Sue Nathan

    What I like about contests is, as a writer, it forces me to write something and polish it to shine. What I don't like is unknown judges. I entered a contest once and then found out the judges didn't have as much experience as me – they were simply members of the organization judging the contest.

    I've read quite a few manuscripts as an editor and as an 'intern' for an agent and I'll say that 50% of the authors who say they've won a contest or had some kind of online recognition — it raises my expectation every time. I'm often disappointed. I also often read winning contest entries and can't figure out why an entry won.

    It always boils down to how subjective this business is, and if we can keep that in mind, we're golden.

  32. Mira

    Sheesh Gordon, lighten up abit. Why so grumpy? No one's murdering little children here. Nathan's just being pragmatic, like he usually is.

    Also, I was really sorry to see that you dropped the GLBT from your vampire children's erotica. Reading GLBT vampire erotic for children made it onto my life goals list. I HAVE to read that. I hope you put the GLBT back, it's just not as good without it.

  33. atsiko

    Most of the agents I've heard weigh in on this say that contest wins aren't that big of a factor. I mean, if the agent hates the book, then they aren't going to take you on because you got semi-finalist in some contest, Amazon or otherwise. And if they love it, then you didn't really need that credit anyway. So what's the point.

    Now, as a confidence booster, okay, fine. If you really need that bolt of external motivation, go ahead.

    But credits in general just don't seem to be something that makes or breaks a query, and I'd rather have a credit based on acceptance directly from an editor than one that the editor really didn't have a personal say in.

    Gerome, the only bragging right among professional authors as far as I have seen is publication. If there are any real "bragging rights" at all. Why should published authors need anything but their publication? Everyone published with a legitimate company has won the only type of contest that counts.

    Oh, and let's distinguish between contests and awards. I'm not suggesting that things like the Edgar and the Rita don't mean shit. Because they mean a lot. But a "contest" is something unpublished authors enter into for "bragging rights", because they don't have the most important bragging rights of all: a contract with a legitimate publisher.

    Which is not to say contests mean nothing. But if you're looking at them in terms of "bragging rights", you're in this business for the wrong reason.

  34. Anonymous

    But in a sea of slush in which you get, among other things, nano subs on Dec. 1, wouldn't winning a contest like say at the Indiana Review, or something judged by say Zadie Smith (if, you know, she actually felt like picking a winner next time) say SOMETHING? Wouldn't it at least suggest the author can write?

  35. Nathan Bransford


    Of course it means something – just not everything. The most important thing is still the manuscript.

  36. Robin Constantine

    I recently won a contest run by an online chapter of the RWA. There are some awesome agents and editors who judge this contest and its various categories, which is one of the reasons I wanted to enter. While it doesn’t promise (or guarantee) publication, I’ve had requests for my manuscript due to the contest. I’ve been at this for a number of years with many different manuscripts (pb & YA), so to go to my inbox and read “Hey, I’m intrigued, send it my way” from an agent, is like a giant bottle of “am I crazies” repellant. The contest definitely got my foot in the door but I know I’ve got my work cut out for me to keep it there! So I think the right contests are a great way for unpublished writers to get their work out of the slushpile.

  37. contests mean something anon

    Sorry Nathan, that was aimed at another post, not you.

  38. Emma Michaels

    Thank you for writing this post. I worked really hard with my father who is an editor to shorten my manuscript for a competition and only found out today some of the fine print. I had done my research but this information had not been available at the time. I was arguing with myself over it even though my father says to just not enter and not worry since either way we have a cleaner and clearer manuscript for submitting to agents. I was hitting myself over it until I read this blog so thank you so much!


  39. atsiko

    I think the point here is that winning a contest does say something. But the manuscript itself says more.

  40. Scott

    I once paid upwards of $200 on contests in a single year and decided it would be cheaper to just believe in myself and query. So far, no change but the change in my pocket.


  41. Richard Lewis

    I was one of the fortunate ones. About ten years ago, I entered my first fee-paying contest, the Writer's Digest Short Story contest, and placed third. Or was it second? I can't remember. I tend to move on and write new stuff. Anyway, "Menarche" was published in a special issue, which happened to be read by an agent, who got in touch out of the blue…and yes, it really does happen, sometimes.

    If anyone is interested, the story can be read here:

  42. terryd

    Great advice as always, Nathan.

    I pulled out of the Amazon contest last year after my agent started submitting my book. Good thing I withdrew, as the publishing luck fairy came a-knocking with a two-book deal.

  43. Anonymous

    My experience with writing contests has been very rewarding. In 2007 I was shorlisted for the CWA(UK) Crime Writers Association Debut Dagger awarded to the best first 3000 words and synopsis of my novel "The Witch of Babylon" (an unpublished crime novel.) Just being shortlisted resulted in getting a top literary agent. Following this the book won the Canadian Crime Writers Arthur Ellis award for best unpublished crime novel. And now the M.S. is circulating, that has helped the book to be noticed by editors (its sold in seven countries to date. So writing contests really make a difference but it's important to choose which ones you decided to enter wisely.

    Nathan, I finally have a chance to thank you for what I consider one of the best "writing" sites on the internet. Kudos to you!

  44. Dorothy

    Guess I hit the wrong button there, didn't intend to be anonymous in my previous post!

    D. J. McIntosh

  45. AndrewDugas

    I've published several short stories, but I never got so much mileage from a credit when a short story was a finalist — not even the winner — in a contest connected to the San Francisco Writers Conference. I got more email about that, and the story wasn't even published.

    Go figure.

  46. Anonymous

    I'm not an agent, I'm an author, but if i were an agent I'd agree with Nathan and sort of roll my eyes at any Amazon semi-final mention. Doesn't mean I wouldn't consider the book–I would–but semi-finalist? C'mon. There's enough real books by unagented authors selling on the actual Amazon if I want to choose books based on Amazon.

    The AMZN sales rank is the "contest" you want to win, not the "Breakthorugh" contest.

  47. Ann M

    I was so happy to read this post! I've been contemplating writing a short story simply so I have something to submit to writing contests (since so many seem to request short stories instead of longer manuscripts). I really appreciate your post! As always, it's very informative – thanks!

  48. D. G. Hudson

    Thanks, Nathan, for this great post laying the facts on the line about writing contests. I, for one, appreciate knowing an agent's perspective.

    Most of these contests tell you that you should conform to what has won in the past if you want to even be a finalist.

    I prefer to take my chances with an agent. I'm speaking from experience; I've entered a few just because it forced me to step outside my comfort zone. What you can get from entering contests is the experience of trying to write something different, or polishing your writing skills.

  49. Matilda McCloud

    I like blog contests, but I don't enter writing contests anymore because a couple of them drove me crazy. For one RWA contest I got all the highest marks from one judge who said she couldn't wait to read my books when they were published etc. The other judge hated my ms. So go figure. I think you get more consistent feedback from agents. The Amazon contest drove me insane also–it has so many levels and I was biting my nails the whole time hoping to get to the next level etc. Very stressful (at least for me).

  50. Anonymous

    So, if you get an agent it's worth more than winning a contest in a query that you're sending to an agent. But you already have an agent?

    Sorry, but that does not compute.

    It seems that a 15K advance and a publishing contract thru a contest doesn't hold any weight with an agent?

    I must be misinterpreting your post. Essentially, you're telling writers to forget the contests with a much better chance of a "win" and wait for a far less chance with an agent.

    Also, a finalist or honorable mention is still worthless?

    It's hard for me to understand where a bird in the hand isn't worth diddley to the elusive bird that's flown the coop.

  51. Anonymous

    anon @5:26

    I can't speak for Nathan, but I think he was trying to explain that as an agent, he's more interested in reading queries about good novels he loves than he is in reading about contests and finalists.

    And from what I've heard with other agents, I think he was being extremely kind in this entire post. I know one agent who couldn't care less, and he's an agent with many big books.

    I've been listening to these contest discussions on blogs for ages, and the same people who are always defending them wind up disappearing, never to be heard from again. While the real writers continue to stick around and do things the hard way.

  52. Robert A Meacham

    I like contests because I live for deadlines, rules , and pressure. I am looking forward to the contest in January.

  53. Nathan Bransford


    Yeah, agents are interested in selling, but unless you're a celebrity, bad writing doesn't tend to sell. So I tell people who aren't famous to write well.

  54. Anonymous

    you're right. you always got watch out for the good and the bad contests.

  55. Edward W. Robertson

    Anon 5:40:

    I'm sure you're mostly right, but some contests, as Nathan noted, do matter–e.g. the Writers of the Future contest for sci-fi/fantasy. As a result of winning the 2002 contest, Patrick Rothfuss was put in touch with an agent who agreed to represent a novel that had been rejected far and wide before that. A few years later, The Name of the Wind became a NYT bestseller.

    Even winning the WotF contest is no sure thing, as a glance at past victors will prove, but Rothfuss is hardly the first to launch a career off it. Your comment was probably pointed at the many, many, many smaller contests than this one, but there are certainly a handful with real power.

  56. Cat Torres V

    I recently wrote about the advantages in joining contests for new writers(sorry for the promo, but the post may be useful for new writers:, but now that I've read Nathan's post, I'm re-thinking some of these reasons.

    Overall, I still think that it's good practice for getting used to 'rejection' and the discipline of meeting deadlines and wordcounts. And when the contest includes some critique or feedback, it's really a great learning experience.

    So I hope that joining competitions will help me prepare for the real competition… getting an agent!

  57. Jennee

    What about fees for contests? Is that normal? I've never entered a contest because I don't want to pay someone to possibly read what I wrote…lol. But great advice! Thanks.

  58. Mira

    Gordon – I apologize. I started this, and I realize you're just upping the ante, so it's my fault. But upon reflection, let's not go there on Nathan's blog. Maybe another time and space.

    But this is a family blog, so probably best not.

  59. Linguista

    Great post as always.

    It's not a problem for me though, since as a non-American who lives in Japan, I am usually ineligible for everything.

  60. Leis

    Thanks for the insights, Nathan. I always wondered what (if any) importance agents gave to contest wins, especially when those are based on popular votes.

    I gave up contests a couple of years ago, primarily because my writing style tends toward literary–which, as we all now, has a (very) limited following these days. Still, sometimes I am tempted, some contests sound so….juicy, resisting can be difficult 🙂

    Starting NOW, I'll never again agonize over entering, even if it should have an almost irresistibly appealing theme. Whew!

  61. Nathan

    Ahhh.. fine print. How many times do we blindly leap into the acceptance of terms due to the sheer enormity of the task it would be to read them fully?

    I may have already signed away my soul several times over without ever being the wiser.

    In this case though, I would certainly take the time for the drudgery.

  62. anongirl

    Gordon —

    "…Agents act like they are keenly interested in quality writing–but they're not. You and I both know bad writing (depending on how bad it is) can be edited…"

    As someone who has been published I find your above quote bizarre. Yes, books get edited. Yes, not all books are to my liking or I'd guess, yours. Romance novels shouldn't get compared to the latest Michael Chabon, which shouldn't be compared to a cookbook, and so on. Different genre's have different standards. But the attitude that an editor or agent lives to serve you by fixing your sucky writing isn't going to serve you well.

    Editors and agents do not have the time to hold your hand and teach you about sentence structure, character arcs, verb usage, or come up with half of your plot for you. They want something that looks like, tastes like, and smells like, and reads like a book. THEN they add value through their edit suggestions, making it even better.

    Why would they bother with a writer with "bad" writing, which may take six months to overcome when they can give an edit letter to someone who's already done the hard work of becoming better BEFORE they submit?

  63. WitLiz Today

    Back in the ancient of days when I was a budding concert pianist facing a major concerto competition, I had reservations leading all the way up to the moment I stepped on the stage. Sure, some of that was my nerves jingling worse than bells on a reindeers ass, but I also couldn't see the point of putting my sanity on the line like that.

    However, after downing five post-play margarita's, and reflecting upon the experience of skipping off the stage secure in the knowledge I had played well, despite the best efforts of my accompanist whose hands had suddenly turned to stone; and despite the fact I and my compatriots were asked to leave the audience after standing up and cheering each and every competitor and calling for encore's, I sobered up eventually and came to really appreciate the experience.

    I even forgave my accompanist, saying something like, "Brian if you ever play like that again, I'm going to bury you in the school's Steinway and laugh diabolically when they find your dead, lifeless body clunking up the hammers!"

    The point is, the critique I got from the judges, though wildly divergent in their views on most issues, was extremely helpful. From then on the concerto got better and better and at one point I played it flawlessly to a standing ovation. (I also quit drinking too. Maybe that was good, ja?)

    With Mr. Bransford's last contest, (even though I didn't enter it) I was able to fix what had been bothering me about my first chapter for months. Even with endless revisions, I still had that nagging feeling something was fatally flawed with it. Anyway, when I read so many of the very fine first chapters, I had an epiphany.

    I really think anytime a writer or author has the opportunity to learn and grow, whether it be through contests, or submitting their work to be critiqued, or reading writing blogs, whatever will add to their repetoire of writing tools, they should take it.

  64. holly

    wow, lots of great advice for people who love writing, thanks a lot, i will probably use this information for good use.

  65. howdidyougetthere

    Helpful alternate perspective post. It never dawned on me that agents get multiples more submissions than any contest judge.

    Shoot, and I thought a competition win was the equivalent to my striking a giant gong, and entering behind a cloud of smoke – when in fact it's only a doorbell. And probably an annoying one at that.

    Oh well, everything helps to tilt the teetering egg. If I need enough bells to fill a hand choir, so be it.

    Anyone know where I can rent a choir robe?

  66. howdidyougetthere

    The actual point I was trying to make is that I think if one item won't push an agent over the edge, a lot of them might just garner a request for the full ms…

    I think it all adds up, just like Malcolm Gladwell says about plane crashes, 7 small–individually insignificant–things.

  67. SZ

    Thank you so much for the advise ! I have only entered two small contests, and did not use work that is for my hopeful bigger picture.

    Question for you, or someone like you. Have you ever been asked to judge a contest due to its genre being one you are close to ? Did you ever look into the writers you chose as a winner ?

  68. sex scenes at starbucks

    Though I won a small contest (and a book, the best prize ever!) and I have some honorable mentions under my belt, I now think ALL CONTESTS ARE A WASTE OF TIME. I feel pretty strongly about that, if you didn't notice. Thing is, I have a very limited time to prepare my work for submission. Most writers have less time than me. So why spend all your time on some stupid contest when you could be sending out your work to agents (and editors, in the case of short stories) for Real Actual Money? Contests are just playtime. If you intend to sell your writing and make it a job, then spend your time doing the real work.

  69. sex scenes at starbucks

    Also, it's my experience that I've gotten far greater feedback from my critique group than a contest judge, plus you get the added benefit of DOING critique, which is as or more valuable than receiving it. Yep, I did put my time in on the contest circuit. No more.

  70. Fawn Neun

    Hmmm… well, with this morning's news that some UK publishers are offering the staggering amount of 500 GBP's for literary fiction, I don't think I'd turn my nose up at 15K American.

  71. Anonymous

    Gordon said,

    "But if you think GLBT Kintergarden Vampire Erotica is the bomb."

    First, I'd like to know why Gordon is so anti-LGBT. I'm sensing some passive aggressive comments here.

    Second, I'd like to know who is publishing LGBT vampire erotica to five year olds. The erotic romance writers I know market their work to adults, and state it clearly.

  72. SozinTara

    Some people may disagree with me, but I'd rather self publish and have total rights to do an ebook as well. Traditional is fine, but I like control 🙂

  73. Wilhem Spihntingle

    I think the Amazon contest would be a great avenue for a manuscript that could'nt find a home. Nothing to lose, and imagine if you actually won 🙂 Not so sure about entering a manuscript that hasn't been shopped around already by "traditional" methods.

  74. Mira

    Nathan, sorry. This is the last one.


    I decided that this conversation on Nathan's blog wouldn't end well, so it was best to stop.

    That said, I do acknowledge that I started this, so I thought it was best I stop it. Sorry if you felt set up – that wasn't my intention.

    But your comments to me were out of line and hurtful. I'm disappointed, I thought we were starting to be friendly. Now I just feel hurt, and don't particularily want to talk to you.

    I hope you'll consider getting back to a more friendly exchange. That would be my preference.

  75. Next

    It's hard to see why winning a national short-story contest listed in the Poets and Writers website would ever be a bad thing. Let's not collapse contests: blog contests are not national contests run by big journals–Narrative, Boulevard, etc. Many of those contests have good judges–Joshua Ferris is judging the latest Columbia contest–so, to be honest, I don't understand where you all are coming from. Obviously saying you won an award from your local library when you were five is idiotic, but 'I won the 30 under 30' award from Narrative? Many agents would take notice.

  76. Courtney Price

    I didn't scroll through all 85 comments, but here's my thing with contests: I can't stand the ones that include a "vote" online! It just means that one person got more clicks from their friends or cleared their cookies more. Nothing else! SO, any "talent based" competition that includes a vote is completely silly to me.

  77. J

    Nathan, not sure if you're checking in before xmas, but this story from Andrew Sullivan's blog shocked me:

    Essentially Laredo is about to be bookstoreless–250,000 people without a local bookstore. The comments indicate that there is a Walmart there where people can buy books, but that is not a bookstore.

    How do you think this plays into the eBook trend, if at all? One of the arguments against eBooks is the sensory experience of a bookstore (in addition to holding the book). I wonder if people HAD to buy online anyway, if that wouldn't translate into more of a willingness to do the whole Kinddle, nook, whatever, thing??

    In any case, happy holidays!

  78. Nathan Bransford


    Definitely very distressing. I like e-books, but I also don't want bookstores to close. They provide an essential function. I'm hoping this isn't a sign of things to come and that we find some kind of balance.

  79. Anthony James Barnett - author

    In the past I've entered short story contests, been placed, and had the work published in anthologies.

    I have later regretted it because the stories would have been eligible for much higher paying markets had I waited.

    Competitions might look good on a CV, might do a flagging ego a power of good, but they've never actually done my career any good.

  80. Susan Gratton


    I entered the Amazon Breakthrough contest. Is it okay if I tell an agent I lost? LOL

  81. Toni

    Well, it all depends on the contest, doesn't it. I recently won a place in a residential ms development course with a brilliant one-on-one mentor. It was one of the best weeks of my life, in writing terms, and gave me the confidence to keep writing when I had reached one of those "Why the hell am I doing this?" points.
    The contests I enter, mainly through RWA, are the ones that offer valuable feedback and critiques. And usually a contract to the winner. $22 is a small price to pay.

  82. Anonymous

    i entered a local contest and received inane comments on my MS, so inane that two of the writers who heard them actually moaned in exasperation. In this contest they didn't give the names of the judges—now I think I know why. This has really put me off contests.


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Hi, I’m Nathan. I’m the author of How to Write a Novel and the Jacob Wonderbar series, which was published by Penguin. I used to be a literary agent at Curtis Brown Ltd. and I’m dedicated to helping authors chase their dreams. Let me help you with your book!

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