Friday, May 11, 2012

Contests - worth it?

Roxy asked:

Wondering what you think of the future for writing contests, given the economy and the rise of indie publishing.
Roxy, I think contests—legitimate, reputable contests—still have some real value even in these days of online publishing, especially for the indie author.

One of the things that contests have historically provided was a certain legitimacy in the eyes of the publishing world. As more and more ebooks are published, this is not only true for traditional publishers, but it’s true for the reader. A reader has to discern—quickly, because people only have so much time to figure out what books they want to read—what new or veteran author they really want to spend their money on. An author announcing that the book won a contest is a promotion tool that also helps readers make their decision.

For example, it says something when a published novel has “RITA winner” on it. Savvy romance readers know that this book has won the equivalent of the Academy Awards in the romance writing world. Anyone can look up this award on the internet and see it for themselves.

Same thing for the Golden Heart, and other well-known RWA chapter contests. It means something to have won, or even been a finalist in, these awards. I imagine the same is true for organizations that support other genre writers.

But what if you didn’t win? Well, there’s still value in contests.

Contests can be a testing field where you put your story out in front of people who don’t know you, don’t care, and will judge your story solely on if it’s a good read or not. One of the worst things for any writer’s reputation is to put her manuscript out into the big wide publishing world only to have her baby die from the scorn heaped upon its birth. News travels fast on the internet, and I know of one author’s public humiliation at the hands of people who commented about her book on an ebook review site. If I recall correctly, that altercation reached all the way to mainstream online news sources.

Trust me, you don’t want to go there.

When you enter a contest, it’s usually anonymous—RWA’s Golden Heart contest for unpublished writers is one such. If you didn’t win or final, nobody but you knows it. If your book wins, finals, or gets high scores, at least you know that whether you submit it to a mainstream publisher or decide to epublish it yourself, you have a chance at doing well in the marketplace. Sure, you'll always get people who diss your work, but at least you have that contest win in your pocket to take out and assure you that a legitimate group of judges thought your story was the hot ticket to a good read.

If you don’t score well—no harm, no fail. You pick yourself up from out of your Godiva chocolate ice cream binge and start fixing your story. You either join a critique group (if you haven’t already) to help you out and take their critiques seriously, or you save up enough money to hire someone to edit your book.

So go ahead and enter some legitimate contests (emphasis on legitimate—do your research!) if you’re at the point where you think you might be ready for publication in any venue. Find one that suits your needs, whether it’s a critique, marketing creds, or having a chance at an editor or agent review. The contest entry fee is a small price to pay for good information about the stage of your writing career.