Hi, LDS Publisher!
I have a question. I have an incomplete manuscript that I hope to develop one day into a complete book. A few days ago, I had the idea of sending the first part of it to the Irreantum 2007 Fiction Contest. I’ve had two published authors read it, praise it, and encourage me to submit. According to the website, any fictional form can be submitted, including short stories or excerpts from novels. What I’d like to know is, should I label my submission as an excerpt even though the novel is not finished? If my submission doesn’t win anything, which is very likely, then there’s no problem, but what if it does actually win something and somebody wants to see the entire novel? Would that be a problem akin to the situation you recently described, where an author submitted a query but didn’t have the manuscript finished, and the editor was left banging her head on the desk and forcing a polite “No, thanks,” from between clenched teeth? Or should I call my entry a short story instead? Thankfully, it can stand on its own. I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Submitting to a contest is not the same as submitting a query to a publisher. You never query a publisher on an unfinished fiction piece. But it’s perfectly acceptable to submit a stand-alone section of an as-yet-unfinished novel to a contest, if the contest rules allow that. If you win and an editor wants to see a finished product, just tell them you’re still working on it. They might be disappointed, but if they really liked it they’ll ask you to submit when it’s done. And wouldn’t that be great motivation to get it finished?
(I’ve requested submissions from winners of contests like this before. As long as the author followed up within a year, I was fine. If it takes longer than that to submit the full, I’d worry that they wouldn’t be able to produce additional manuscripts in a timely manner and it’s all about promoting an author while they’re hot.)
As to what to call it, short stories are usually complete by themselves. They have a full story/plot arc and leave the reader emotionally satisfied at the end. Excerpts can have unfinished business. When a short story is expanded into a novel, stuff is added in between the sentences and paragraphs to make it longer and to add depth. An excerpt pretty much stays as is, with chapters added before and after, but not within it. Based on your description, I’d call it an excerpt.
You also need to get some internal motivation and positive thinking going. Tell yourself you’re going to win and that editors will be clamoring for you to submit to them, so you’d better get that thing finished–NOW! 🙂
Seriously, if you win, you can include that in your future query letters.