Timing is Everything: Don’t Let Impatience Hurt Your Chances

There are a lot of really exciting, amazing and fun writing contests coming up in the next few weeks and months. (I’m sure you’re all following the monthly Contest Roundup list, right?)

As you know, I’m a huge believer in contests. They’re a fun, informative and potentially very productive component of a well-rounded submission strategy. But a manuscript that isn’t fully query-ready isn’t ready for contests either. (If you missed my post about how to tell when your manuscript is ready, you can read it here.)

I know, sometimes it’s hard to wait. You’re sitting on the sidelines, and it seems like everyone around you is right in the middle of the query contest circuit. And the three agents at the top of your query wish list are all participating. This is your only chance to catch Agent X’s attention, as she’s been closed to unsolicited queries for over a year, but you know she’ll love your premise. You’re not 100% finished with your manuscript, but you have a completed first draft, and if you skip eating and sleep, you’ll probably be able to get in one good round of revisions before the agents/editors make their requests. And if not, you can always query the interested agent later, when your manuscript is ready, right?


Imagine: You make it through the slush rounds and into the agent round of the contest. When the agents make their rounds, your amazing pitch is wildly popular. Six of the participating agents are fighting over you, and in the end, Agent X (your dream agent – the one who no longer accepts unsolicited queries) wins the rights for a full manuscript. But the revisions aren’t going as quickly as you’d hoped. You now have a difficult choice: You can either send the unrevised manuscript, and hope the agent sees your potential through the mess, or you can explain that your manuscript isn’t actually ready to send out yet and hope that Agent X is excited enough by your premise to wait for you to pull it together. Either way, you aren’t leaving the best impression on your dream agent.

In this way, contests are no different from traditional querying. When an agent requests your manuscript, he expects to be able to read it right away. If you’re not ready to send it when requested, you may miss your chance. Do you really want your dream agent to remember you as “the author who got my hopes up and didn’t deliver?”

Trust me, there will be other contests. Other chances. And it’s very likely that your dream agent will join in again later, when your manuscript is actually ready. (Or you might discover that Agent Y is really more of a dream agent for you than Agent X anyway.)

If your manuscript is ready, I encourage you to enter that fun contest you’ve had your eye on. But if it’s not, do yourself a favor and hold off until the next contest comes along.

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