Dear Miss Snark,
My first manuscript recently placed as a semi-finalist in a literary contest. Is that worth mentioning in a query on my second MS or do agents/editors see that as the ugly stepsister award?
Ok, I don't get this. Your first ms got the recognition..and you're shopping something else? Why?
Second, semi-finalist is sort of like an award for participation. It makes you feel good, but it's probably not got leverage enough to work for you.
The contest itself is an important factor. If you were a semi finalist in Miss Snark's 2nd Annual Writing contest, well, frankly, I'd mention that incredible honor on the envelope itself; hell with waiting for the cover letter. If it's the Jackalope Junction Corner Pocket Manuscript Reading, Writhin' and Roundup, well, you want to just count your blessings for getting out alive and not tempt fate by referring to it ever again.