Winners, but unpublished

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Many things can get in the way of getting a book published. Contracts, rewrites, desire, editorial shifts. But having a contest victory in hand should give an author a better chance, right?

Right? Well, maybe not. A few summers ago I collected business cards at the 2006 Agents and Editors conference, presented by the Writer’s League of Texas. The League was once an Austin institution. Now it’s a statewide organization. The conference holds a manuscript competition. The winners in a half-dozen categories get applauded in a public presentation. In 2006 they were ushered off to meetings with agents.

I was filing business cards today and saw one from Beverly Bryant, whose card reports she’s the 2005 Mainsteam Fiction winner in the WLT Contest. I figured Beverly might have published her book Don’t Make Me Dance someplace by now.

I’m sorry to say not so, if Google and Amazon searches are reliable reporters. Same to be said for the winners in the overall category (Cold Dogs, by Richard L. Dutton) and Science Fiction-Fantasy-Horror (Travelers on the Smoke by Marjorie A. Stewart & Betty W. Hall).

I report this not because I wish any of these authors bad luck in their quest to publish. (And believe me, if you’ve been to the WLT A & E conference, plus submitted MS pages to the contest, you want to publish your book.) No, my point is that a contest victory is just one more hilltop on the mountain range of making your story into a book.

Few contest sponsors will portray their victors as the authors of ongoing projects. But you win a contest with a chapter at most. A publisher will want to see three, if your summary and synopsis will pass the eye of the editing needle.

I’m in rewrite purgatory now for Viral Times, so I’ve got less to show than even Beverly’s business card. But a contest entry (at $50 by now, for the WLT) up against several hundred other 10-page manuscript excerpts just doesn’t motivate me. Maybe you’ll find that finishing your book, then offering it to agents and editors, with a prize of being published, is the contest which you’d really like to win. Keep writing and get into a good manuscript group.

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