Writer Wednesday—Contests

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:

  1. Is the contest well known? Would readers recognize this contest and be more likely to buy my book?
  2. What is the cost? What is the prize?
  3. Does it involve publishing and rights?
  4. 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.

Good grief.

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.



Writer Wednesday—Who’s Your Daddy?

Okay, who’s your publisher? Are they legit? Do you know the difference?

There are so, so many kinds of publishing these days, and unfortunately, some of those publishers are only out to make a quick buck and take advantage of writers.

The first type is traditional publishing, or trade publishing. This is the kind where you may receive an advance—not free money, by the way, it’s an “advance” on your future earnings, like when you work on commission with a “draw,” as in selling cars—and you are paid royalties. Additionally, YOU DO NOT PAY the publisher.

To clarify even more, if you DO send money to the publisher, you better be getting a box of your books in return and be paying not a penny over the retail price. Most publishers even give you a discount.

The second type is self-publishing. You write a book; you design or pay someone to design a cover; you edit or pay someone to edit; you purchase an ISBN or allow a website/company to provide one at no or a reduced charge. You may pay for marketing or for a publicist or for other promotions.

Third, there are vanity presses. These “publishers” will accept anything. They will charge you big bucks to edit, to design a cover, to have an ISBN, to list the book on major retail sites, for phone calls, for emails, and probably more. They may or may not actually edit your book, and you might get a decent cover. They’ll tell you that you MUST buy a certain number of books, and the discount offered, if any, is laughable.

A big clue that you’re dealing with a vanity press is a submission form that includes “send us your idea” or an advertisement for submissions. Legit publishers ask for a query letter or five or ten pages or even an entire manuscript. And they don’t advertise on Craigslist.

Another common theme is that they may tell you that your book “isn’t quite ready” and you should check out their other services. Or they direct you to another website that is, in fact, part of their own company. Now, some of these, very few, actually do run separate businesses, but it can be difficult to tell the difference.

A trade publisher covers all costs associated with publishing your book—they don’t tell you it will cost YOU $1000 for editing, and at the same time, they won’t send you to another company (or division of theirs) to pay someone for editing. A trade publisher will offer you a contract and publish your books, paying you royalties.

A vanity press will charge you for editing or illustrations or design, or insist you purchase a marketing package; a legit publisher will simply market your book. A vanity press will force you to buy X number of copies; an actual press will offer you copies at a discount off the retail price.

And finally, fourth, there are hybrid presses. Initially, the term hybrid was used for authors who had traditional book contracts, but who also ventured into self-publishing. More and more, “hybrid” is now used by new and small publishers who combine different types of publishing.

You need to be aware, and you need to do your homework, before signing on the dotted line.

One type of hybrid press is a cooperative: several authors, under a business name and with or without anyone being called the “publisher,” band together to publish their books. One may be skilled in cover design, one in editing, and one in marketing. All work together on each book produced. This could be beneficial and cost-effective, as long as you can play nicely with each other. In truth, it’s a type of self-publishing by exchanging skills instead of dollars.

Another type is a publisher who only produces E-versions of books; you, the author, are free to self-publish print copies. Or vice versa.

The third type is, in effect, a vanity press in disguise. They’ll accept nearly every book submitted, only they don’t actually have a submission process. They have a form in which you tell them your “idea.” Often, they’ll ask you to raise money before they “accept” your book, but almost always there’s a catch. For instance, one company charges to store print copies, and charges the author before that to produce those print copies.

One more time: if you pay the “publisher,” you’re with a vanity press. And again, not to be confused with buying a product, e.g., copies of books, that you may re-sell or give away as you wish.