Would you ever consider paying someone $100.00 for the privilege of entering a book contest? Sound like a scam? Well, think again. Book contests can help your marketing efforts in many ways. Granted, $100.00 sounds like a lot of money to someone who is only selling a few books a month, and that amount does not cover the cost of the book itself or your mailing costs, either. But a charge of $100.00 or less is usually a legitimate one. Running a book contest is an expensive proposition. After all, someone has to pay for medals and ribbons, winner’s stickers, websites, postage, ads, and all the other related expenses. By charging relatively small fees, the sponsors of these contests are making it possible to reward many more fledgling authors.
Are you afraid the contest is rigged? If it has been operating for several years, you should be able to find a list of past winners. A legitimate contest should be listed in publications like Writers Markets or on the websites of the sponsoring organizations. By all means, do your homework, and find a contest that appears reputable and designed for writers like yourself. Then read the rules and jump in.
Are you afraid of rejection? Failure is something you might as well get used to if you’ve decided to become a writer. Every one of us could paper a room with our rejection letters. Lots of books just don’t make it. I saw a statistic recently that indicated that out of 1.2 million books published in the past year, only about 3000 of them will ever sell more than 50,000 copies. So welcome to the 99.75% of us who should not quit our day jobs. We all flounder together. A book contest may be just what you need to overcome that fear of failure. Even if you don’t win a thing, you’ll benefit.
You may be surprised to find that the very act of entering a contest makes you feel more confident about your own abilities. After all, you have written a book that meets the qualifications of an organization that awards good writing. You’ve followed guidelines and met a deadline. Best of all, you’ve proved to yourself that you have faith in your own work. That’s important.
If you don’t win, be sure to follow up. Many such contests are willing to provide you with their reviewers’ comments, so that you can learn what it was that they did not like about your book. If you can learn from your first attempt, you’ll have a better shot at future contests. Also take a look at the winners. Read their books or at least excerpts from them, so that you get an idea of what the reviewers liked about them. That’s another lesson learned.
And what if you do win? Even if you get nothing but an honorable mention sticker to put on your book, it will draw attention to your work and perhaps even help you sell more books. Publishers, agents, book sellers, and buyers are all impressed by those shiny little seals. A gold seal makes you stand out from that whole crowd of 1.2 million book authors. Win just one award, at any level, and you can call yourself an award-winning author. Put that on your website, display the seal or your medal everywhere you can, and use the award as a major factor in your marketing efforts.
This past year, I entered two contests — the Pinnacle Book Achievement Awards and the annual Military Writers Society of America Book Awards. Neither contest offered a Pulitzer or a Man Booker prize, but I profited greatly from both. Both contests give awards in many genres and are open to both traditional publishers and self-publishers. Both publish reviews of their book entries, and any self-publisher can use another book review. Remember that getting favorable publicity is a major part of your marketing effort.
Pinnacle Awards, presented by the North American Booksellers Exchange (NABE), come out every three months, but the award seal does not give dates. I won my “Best Historical Fiction” award for Summer 2011, but the seal shows only the award, not the date. The Military Writers Society of America (MWSA) awarded the same book a bronze medal for Biography. Again, the resulting seal shows only the award, not the date or genre. As soon as these contests announced their winners, my book sales began to improve. The NABE award resulted in my book being given a prominent display at two major book trade shows on the west coast. To receive my medal from MWSA, I traveled to their convention, where I met wonderfully congenial and supportive writers. I am much the richer (and not just in cash!) for the experiences these contests have given me. They were well worth the entry fees.