Should you enter your book (or poem or short story) in a contest? Like everything else in the book industry, “It depends.” Some questions to ask yourself:
- Is the contest well known? Would readers recognize this contest and be more likely to buy my book?
- What is the cost? What is the prize?
- Does it involve publishing and rights?
- Is it a scam?
Take the Newbery Medal, for instance, or the Caldecott Medal; we all remember those from childhood book fairs and libraries. Or the Children’s Choice Book Awards.
The Jane Addams Peace Awards have no entry fee; neither do those mentioned above. This is your first clue on how to avoid a bad contest.
Now, some writers think that winning any contest at all is better than winning nothing. Readers may not know the difference, but fellow authors and others in the book business do know, and they aren’t going to be impressed. That’s not to say you didn’t write a very nice book, maybe it COULD have won a prestigious award.
But just because you were “invited,” it doesn’t mean you should drop everything and enter—and often pay money. It’s been said that you could buy a package of gold stickers for much less, and it would mean as much.
Some contests offer a cash prize, which is always nice, but those generally involve paying an entry fee. Is the cost worth it? Is it a gamble? Should you buy a lottery ticket instead?
Other contests award a publishing contract or inclusion in an anthology. Be very careful of these, and know your rights. Read that contract over and over, or have an attorney look at it. Often, this is nothing but a vanity press, particularly those given out by new or small presses or known offenders in the industry.
And finally, the scam:
When you submit to some contests, that simple entry can sign away your rights and hand them over to the publisher—for how long and what you’re paid are probably two unanswerable questions.
And Lord knows, I gripe enough about vanity presses, but contests don’t always fall into their realm. However, many contests are ostensibly run by third parties, but under the surface, you’ll see they are not. Some contests are run by a publishing house that only includes that house’s books—how much meaning, really, is there in that?
Contest scams in general are noted for high entry fees, a large number of categories, convoluted ownership issues, short timeframe for judging, lack of information about judges, and spam.
What’s a high entry fee? $75.00 or more. Maybe even less, depending. Large number of categories? Again, subjective, but when every possible genre and sub-genre are included, you might be wary. Ownership issues? When a contest is run by one organization, but is connected by ownership to, say, a book review site and/or some type of publisher, that’s suspect.
Some of these will have a deadline of, for example, April 15th, and say they’ll announce winners May 15th. That’s not much time for panel of judges to read all those entries. Besides, who are those judges? Are they readers? Publishers? Agents? Someone in a back room surrounded by books who looks at the covers and tosses them aside?
And finally, spam.
When a company constantly emails, telling me to ENTER NOW! and reminds me of the due date umpteen times, I smell a rat. And most particularly, when I respond, politely, and request they remove me from their mailing list because I’m not interested, I get back things like “obviously [you] know nothing about the publishing industry, because [our] company is very famous and prestigious, blah, blah, blah,” and “we are not scam, we good company.”
Things along those lines. Sometimes, they’re downright rude and insulting and accuse me of all manner of things. But the spam never stops.
Just like vanity presses, if a contest is going to contact you out of the blue, they’re probably also going to take your money for no reason at all. Do your homework. Make sure you enter only legit contests with proven records, and don’t be distracted by their names or claims—but for heaven’s sake, don’t take the word of the contest promoter. And please don’t tout your “accomplishment” all over the Internet.
It’s embarrassing. Go buy some stickers.