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Are ebook contests worth the entry fee?

Usually I’m here spouting my opinion about publishing or sharing what I find that’s useful for indie authors.

English: Ribbon for contests

English: Ribbon for contests (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today, I’m asking for your opinion of ebook awards. Help me with this, please.

I just ran across PIA (Publishing Innovation Awards), for instance. It’s $199 to submit a book in a single category. Wow. (That qualifies as a “wow” because it’s the most expensive contest I’ve seen.) Huge companies are behind it, which is reassuring, though one wonders how much their corporate sponsorship has put a dent in that entry fee? Most entry fees for awards available to indie authors seem to be in the $50 to $69 range. The one I’ve spotted that’s free to enter is also no doubt the best known: Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award. Other awards ask for a more hefty fee for one book but you can enter a second book at a much reduced fee.

I googled for reviews of some of these contests, but that got me pages and pages of the winners trumpeting their books (not reviews of the contest experience itself.) Maybe that means these awards are totally worth the expense of entry and the winners gained readers, provided social proof of excellence and improved sales. A seal of approval on any book is no doubt somewhat reassuring to potential readers, even if they’ve never heard of the award.

FYI: The Book Designer has a handy list of contests here. It’s a little out of date but most of the information still applies. Note that it’s just a list, not an endorsement of any particular contest.

I’ll start you off with this observation: My first thought about the QED award was that it looks good and has a happy track record according to their website. There was an awful lot of reading and pitching before I found the cost of entry. (It’s on the FAQ page, though I’m not sure what the alternative $125 for QED consideration might include. Is $125 for getting evaluated on their 13-point form? Hm.) The search for the contest fee was annoying. If the QED is an awesome opportunity and I’m a fool for hesitating, jump on it. Their deadline is November 15.

What’s your experience? Do contests for authors excite you or are you suspicious some may be merely moneymakers for those who conceive them? Would you enter your books into a contest or is your promotional budget best spent elsewhere? I welcome your thoughts and comments. Thanks for helping me with this.

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7 Responses

  1. shayfabbro says:

    I entered the Indie Excellence Awards and was a finalist in that one. I got a sticker *shrug* I think that if the award for winning was something like your book being given to agents or a publisher, or an advertising package then it would be worth the $75. But just some stickers to put on your books? SO not worth it and for most Indie/self-published contests, no reader has ever heard of the awards so they don’t have clout. They don’t tell you how many others were in your category so you don’t know that you won because you were better than 100 other books or because you were the only one that entered. I have to ask where all that damn money is going. A lot of these awards don’t give NEARLY enough time between the entry deadline and when winners will be announced so it also begs the question: are the books actually being read by legit people in that category who KNOW the elements the book should have? Or is it someone getting paid what the author pays in the entry fee and they read the blurb, read the cover, check out reviews and makes their decision in about 2 minutes?

    Sorry about the ramble but I was looking for free, legit contests the other day and seeing all the expensive ones with no monetary award of any kind just sort of rubs me the wrong way 😉

  2. Chazz says:

    Interesting, Shay. I think you’ve already given us a couple of clues to evaluate these things: How long (or too short?) is their evaluation period and if you win, is the prize colossal? At some of these prices, the pay off should be measurable. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  3. Reena Jacobs says:

    Personally, I think $199 is a rather hefty entry fee. Like Shayfabbro mentioned, what is the award worth if you win it? A sticker for a contest no one’s heard of?

    I see a lot of authors (particularly indie authors) boast about being award winning. It doesn’t impress me. Likewise for the authors who put Amazon Bestseller on their books, since it’s a good chance they probably topped out at a ranking of 50,000, but just happened to be in an obscure category. Or worse, they reached some top 100 list because they gave their book away for free. Rather devalues the whole “best of” idea.

    On the other side, I have entered contests. However, they weren’t for a special sticker or even the opportunity to win lotz of money. The contests I focused on had agents or publishers I wanted to get my work in front of. They offer a way to bypass the slush pile. Typically those contests are inexpensive. We’re looking at no more than $35 an entry. And like the Breakthrough contest, some are even free.

    Anyway. This is the first place I check for contests: http://www.stephiesmith.com/contests.html

  4. Chazz says:

    Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment, Reena.

    Speaking as an award winning writer (!), perhaps the term “award winning” doesn’t impress you but it helps overcome some prejudices with some potential readers. Big or small, awards represent social proof and that’s what we’re all looking for one way or another to promote our book effectively. Social proof helps us get readers to give us a second look. I suspect that even stickers from unknown awards help. Not a lot. Certainly not with everyone, but with some people. It’s difficult to get a date with readers, let alone to first base. I agree, most of us aren’t going to be willing to pay a hefty fee to get a sticker that will influence so few readers. ($199 is a lot, especially for an award I only heard of this morning.) I don’t think this is a yes or no issue, but where you put the weight in the cost/benefit analysis.

    Re: bestseller status. I’m conflicted about calling it a bestseller if it’s free downloads we’re talking about. I’ll give you that one. However, I’m going to disagree about paid bestsellers of any sort on the basis that it’s too harsh (and it’s not boasting, it’s promotion.) I’m okay with anyone using bestseller status they’ve earned because, with millions of books on Amazon, for instance, it’s still a high bar to achieve and something any author should be proud of. Any sort of bestseller status — small list, weird category or (gulp!) overall — is an indication to readers that this is a book to have a look at. They still may not buy it, but they’ll slow down before they click away.

    Granted, I don’t think many will buy on these factors alone. I’m never going to buy the bestselling bird book. There are a lot of variables, but if someone gets to bestseller status in an obscure category (favorite: Ethel the Aardvark Goes Quantity Surveying), it may be obscure to us but it just rocked that author’s world and is concrete social proof to Aardvarks named Ethel studying land survey management.

    Also, thanks for the list, Reena. It’s a nice one.

    • Reena Jacobs says:

      Perhaps I am a bit jaded when it comes to bestseller lists and awards. If an author can get their books in the top 100 list overall, I’m impressed. Heck, I’m impressed by authors who consistently keep a book under 30,000 ranking at Amazon. To me, it means they’re doing something right when it comes to marketing.

      Category rankings, not so much. Why? I have a book which gets on the top 100 charts each time it receives an infrequent sale. I could go weeks without a sale and them bam! I’m on the chart because of one solitary sale. It’s not impressive or boast worthy to have one of my lowest selling and ranking books make a top 100 chart because it happens to be in a category not dominant in the market. It’s more of a “Oh… that’s interesting.”

      Before I realized what writers were doing, I’d see an author with a label “Amazon Bestselling Author” and go to the book to find it has 1 review (maybe) and a ranking of #432,209. My thoughts were “Are you kidding me?” These days, I don’t even bother checking out authors simply because they list some kind of award or bestseller list. What’s the point? Most are gimmicks which amount to nothing.

      I suspect readers see through it also. If they didn’t, then those “Amazon Bestselling Authors” wouldn’t have a ranking of #372,460; they’d have a ranking which indicated they’d had at least one sale in the past couple of weeks.

      My views are similar with the award winning labels. I’ve entered writing contests. As Shayfabbro mentioned, you don’t even know what you’re up against. The work quality of the other competitors might be shabby. There may be few entries. So you win… what does it say? You’re the best of the entrants. You can put out some shoddy writing, but if your shoddy writing is better than the other crap then you win.

      To me that doesn’t alleviate the prejudices. Rather it helps strengthen it. Readers look at the labels indie authors are bestowing upon themselves and losing trust because the labels are just a ploy to get them to look, which can be to the authors advantage to even get a look. At least with a look, they’ve got the reader in the right place. However, once the readers take a look and realize the author is just blowing smoke… then what? Are readers really going to want to purchase a book by an author who “tricked” them into clicking a link by using a worthless label?

      Does that mean authors should keep awards or milestones secret? No way! Collect them on a blog or website. When readers come to research the author and his/her books, wow them. 🙂 I just don’t think those kind of labels work on books unless they’re really significant.

      It reminds me of all the preschoolers receiving an award at the end of the year to make them feel special. Haha… My son got the “Most Imaginative” award last year. I think it was his teachers’ way of saying he was really great at stretching the truth to get his way.

  5. Chazz, $199 sounds like a lot. I am currently a top five finalist in the thriller genre in the Best Indie Books of 2012 Awards sponsored by the Kindle Book Review. There was no entry fee and the awards are creating some good buzz for my book. I have occasionally submitted short stories, etc., to other awards (Writer’s Digest, for instance). I think I have usually paid no more than $20 for these fees. So I am suspect of any award that hits you for $200 up front.
    Readers do pay attention to awards, I think. But I feel a lot better about an award as a writer, if I know my work is receiving an honest and thorough evaluation.


    Stephen Woodfin

  6. […] Today, I'm asking for your opinion about ebook awards. … I googled for reviews of some of these contests, but that got me pages and pages of the winners trumpeting their books (not reviews of the contest experience itself.) …  […]

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