C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

See all my books at AllThatChazz.com.

Are book contests for you?

Yesterday I announced that my trope-defying, apocalyptic sci-fi epic Endemic won two awards. That brings me up to ten writing awards in my lifetime, but let’s take a beat to evaluate whether writers should submit their work hoping for awards. It’s not for everybody all the time. Is anything? (Quick answer: definitely not.)

First book contest caveat

It depends on your goals and what stage of the writing life you’re in. I won my first couple of awards when I was still in high school. I started building a track record early, writing for the school newspaper and for my hometown paper. Back then, it was about two things. Money was a big motivator. I was a teenager. Of course, I wanted money. Second, winning those awards early on lifted my confidence. I was on track to fulfill my dream of becoming a full-time writer. Those awards undoubtedly helped my university application to get into journalism school, too. Getting positive feedback is very important to the budding writer. We’re sensitive hothouse flowers that need tending as we grow.

Later on, I graduated to writing a bit of non-fiction and more and more short stories. Short stories are a great way of developing a concise writing style. Turning plot developments on a dime is a learned skill and writing short can get you there. Feedback from a solid editor is best, but when you don’t have that resource, getting feedback from judges could be the next best thing. Again, money can be motivating. When I won $1,200 from the Toronto Star, it was a big win, but frankly, I needed the money badly. If you write for a living, I guess, teen or not, that yearning doesn’t go away. This is a tough business. I was underemployed and that $1,200 went toward fixing our crumbling chimney.

By the time I started writing longer fiction, my interest in sending in short story entries to Writer’s Digest had waned a bit. However, it’s a good thing that urge didn’t go away completely because I made a judicious choice in sending in one entry. That got This Plague of Days an honorable mention which I’m sure continues to help sell the book years later.

This year, my main motivation to enter book contests was frustration. Amazon screwed up my launch of Endemic, so I felt sabotaged from the start. Finding no success in advertising my wares, I tried paying someone else to do it right. Surely someone who’s a pro could make Amazon ads work where I failed. Nope! They couldn’t move the needle either. I had a free trial of Book Award Pro going and that got me thinking. I was confident I had a great book in Endemic, but I needed a different way to garner some attention. I needed more social proof and a workaround. Book contests? Why not? I’d tried everything else and was unsatisfied with the results. Whether it’s Facebook ads or Amazon ads, my sales seem to remain entirely organic.

Here’s the major reason you shouldn’t enter book contests

Money, as in not enough of it. If your budget is low and you have any doubts about your work, hold off until you’re confident about your entry and there’s money to spare. Entering a book you love still won’t guarantee success, of course. Book contests are a subjective endeavor and have more in common with playing the lottery than they do advertising. I don’t ordinarily submit to book contests because the cost is often prohibitive. However, I got some book doctoring work that allowed me some room in my promotions budget and I allocated some advertising funds to competition fees. Like my dad said about the stock market, only play if you’ve got gambling money. Don’t play with the grocery money.


Also, let’s face it: Some contests don’t pass the smell test.

There are scams out there that only serve to make money for the contest runners and do not benefit authors at all. Even if a contest is legit, the cost of entry may not be worth the benefit to you. There may be no benefit. It’s a competition with a lot of players. Odds are definitely against getting an award you can use as a sales tool.

What are the sales tools, you may ask? You can blog it, advertise it, promote it, alert the media, get stickers (digital and other), and announce the win in your sales copy and newsletter. After that, it’s the long-tail waiting game. (Also, those stickers and added doodads will cost you unless you make your own. If you do make your own, don’t step on the contest runner’s trademark.)

Not all contests are created equal

This morning I checked out a book contest that had a nice name that sounded impressive. I had a peek and discovered the organizers offered an ongoing competition in a vast array of categories. Too many categories. If you’re going for a Hugo or a Bram Stoker Award, those contests are in specific genres with a lot of competition so they’re more prestigious and carry more weight in the social proof department.

Please note: Even some big long-standing competitions have lost their shine due to internecine warfare. Research whatever competition you enter, not only to determine its value, but to decide if it fits with your values.

Another helpful measure

Look up past award winners. I checked out an award winner from a previous year. His book was still stuck at four reviews. There can be many reasons and variables for that to occur, but it made me think the contest was not worth the $100US entry fee. I did not succumb to the siren song of their seductive advertising copy.

If your goal is to sell more books, leveraging a book award win can be difficult. Despite winning two awards in the past two weeks, Endemic’s sales numbers have not shot up. The effect of the prestige of those wins will have to be long term (as it was with This Plague of Days). That’s my hope. In the meantime, it feels good to get some recognition for my work. I’m currently in unrelenting pain awaiting a double hip replacement. I can’t wait to become a pain-free cyborg, so while I wait, I’ll take feeling good however I can get it. There’s another big contest on the horizon, and I’m watching my email because the next win might be a game changer. Fingers crossed.

See what the fuss is all about here.

~ Check out all my apocalyptic epics and killer crime thrillers on my author site, AllThatChazz.com.

Filed under: awards, , , , , , ,

2 Responses

  1. All good points – and, if you’re a beginner, it seems as if nothing you do will start the sales avalanche.

    But a little judicious bragging/mentioning of the award might get you a bit more attention from the swayable. That can’t actually hurt.

  2. acflory says:

    Endemic is a great story so grats on the wins. Commiserations on the hips though. Hope you feel a /lot/ better soon.

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