Disclaimer: the subject of this blog refers to contests for published books—not partial manuscripts, like the ones held by many RWA chapters. These chapter contests not only help support our network, but also provide invaluable feedback, education, and exposure for our work.
As authors, we get the emails all the time. This group or that one is holding a book contest. The entry fees range from free (aside from the cost to provide either paperback copies + postage or ebooks) to hundreds of dollars.
So what’s the real deal with these contests? Should we spend our already highly taxed time & resources to enter?
Well first, know that there are legitimate competitions, and then there are scams. Of course, organizations like RWA are completely reputable, and entering them should be at the top of your list. Who wouldn’t like to put the RITA emblem next to their title?
But before you send out even one copy of your book or pay an entry fee to any other contest, do some research. Find out if there are other authors who have experience with this company/organization, and what their feedback is. A Google search with the contest name and the words “Author Beware” or “Writer Beware” is a good place to start.
Next, take a look at the prize list. Is there cash to be won? A trophy or plaque? Certificate? Stickers for your books? Are they actual prizes or will you be asked to pay for them IF you are a winner? (Yes, this is actually true in some of these contests!)
Then, weigh the benefits. Of course, it’s wonderful to be able to add the label “Award Winner” to one of your titles, but how much will those two little words cost you? For some, acknowledgment alone is enough.
Some contests hold awards banquets or ceremonies where you can make valuable contacts in the publishing industry. Have your moment in the spotlight. Maybe even sell a book or two.
Finally, scout out the field: be smart about choosing your competition. I recently entered one of my titles in a contest that holds competitions in different regions around the country. Entry Fee: $50, and there was no restriction on where you live to enter. The one whose awards ceremony was closest to me did not have a specific category for Romance—only Fiction.
Now, entering my romance novel in the Fiction Division would be like tearing up those fifty greenbacks into tiny pieces and using them for bait to catch fish in the Atlantic Ocean. Waste of time and money. So I poked around a little more.
I discovered the New York-based competition did have a Romance category. Yet that alone would not have convinced me to part with fifty dollars. But the fact that (a) my book was set in New York, and (b) the Awards Banquet was held in New York City, publishing capital of the world (and only several hours drive away), did. These factors, I felt, increased my chances of being noticed in a very big sea. When I was notified that my book was named runner-up, I was over the moon.
Did I win cash? No. But one lucky person was named Grand Prize winner and walked away with $1500 plus travel expenses. Everyone else was issued certificates and bragging rights. I had a fabulous weekend in Manhattan at the luxurious Algonquin Hotel and got to pretend I was rich for a few short hours (you haven’t lived until you’ve spent $21 on a martini. Plus tip!). Will I enter again next year? You betcha.
One startling realization struck me after attending the awards ceremony and chatting with the other authors. Many of these writers enter competitions for sport. For the thrill of competition, the possibility of the big win. Whereas some people show horses or dogs, some cars, others their children (I entered my own daughter in a pageant when she was six!), there are authors who make a hobby out of showing their books. There were at least two I met that night who were on their way to yet another awards ceremony in another location! They were less concerned about selling their books than winning that next award.
After spending most of my life competing at horse shows, I found the similarity of mindset shocking. When we showed horses, we spent tons of money on entry fees and traveling without any thoughts of selling a single horse. For mere bits of ribbon, or the rare trophy or belt buckle. These authors, many of them, enter book contests and spend a fortune in entry fees and travel expenses for the sheer thrill of saying “I won.”
If this is you, go for it. If you can afford it, let not the cost of entry fees, books, and postage hold you back. I can tell you firsthand, if—and when—you win, the thrill is exhilarating. The bragging rights are golden. But if you’re in this business for the love of telling a story, touching the hearts of readers, and selling books—making a career as an author, think long and hard before you jump into the contest ocean. Analyze your motives, and weigh the benefits vs. the costs. And make sure you do your research.
You might just be better off spending that time and energy on writing your next novel.
Claire Gem writes intensely emotional romance—steamy contemporary, some with paranormal elements. Her debut SMP novel, Phantom Traces, is available here. You can find out more about Claire and her work at www.emotionalcontemporaryromance.com.