CONTESTS--LOVE ‘EM, HATE ‘EM, OR WHO CARES?
The other week I was clearing out old papers from my office and I came across scores from contests I’d entered when I first started writing. I decided to take a trip down my memory lane, strewn with the remnants of contest failures.
I started writing back in the Dark Ages when traditional publishers ruled and we submitted hard copies of our manuscripts by snail mail. Computers were around then; it wasn’t that dark. However, I had a word processor and not a computer. I think there were two epubs then--Hard Shell Word Factory and New Concepts Publishing. If you bought an ebook it came in snail mail as a floppy disk (remember them?).
Writing competitions were very important back in those olden days. Contest wins and finals could get an author a publisher and an agent. Two of my original critique partners, who wrote as a team, were self-proclaimed contest sluts. They entered every contest they could, and they won or finaled in most of them. They typed up a list of all the ones they’d won or finaled in, and when they pitched to editors and agents, they showed them the list. Contests worked for them. They got an agent and a multi-book contract with Kensington. I’m no longer in contact with those writers and they’ve quit writing, which is a pity, because they were good.
In those early days I was desperate to final in a contest. I would pray that I would final every time I entered one. I didn’t necessarily have to win; I just wanted to final. I didn’t even come close, not once. Every time I got my results, I was in the dumps for weeks. Sometimes I cried.
As I was going through my old papers, I decided to Google the authors who’d finaled in the contests I’d entered. Almost to a woman, those authors went onto big contracts with print publishers. Most are still writing.
Although I had no contest finals, I managed to sell the second book I wrote, “A Catered Affair,” to Avalon Books, a small print press. But I wouldn’t give up the dream of snagging a contract with one of the Big Six and hiring an agent. Chasing that elusive dream, I continued to enter unpublished manuscripts in any writing competitions I could. My first contest final (at long last!) was the now-defunct PASIC. I had two manuscripts final in that one contest. A twofer! Editors from the Big Six read both entries and passed.
One of the books that finaled in the PASIC, “
Redemption,” was eventually contracted by The Wild Rose Press. I don’t know if
the contest final had anything to do with my getting a contract. Before
submitting to Wild Rose, I submitted Logan
to a small print publisher that usually took twelve weeks to respond. I assume
it was my contest final that got me a rejection from them in two weeks and not
their usual twelve. Same thing happened with my paranormal, “Cursed Mates,” now
published by Noble Romance Publishing. Cursed finaled in two prestigious
contests. Several top epubs and print publishers rejected it in two weeks
rather than their usual twelve. So, the moral of this story: Contest finals got
me rejections quicker than if I hadn’t finaled.
Are writing contests for unpublished works still relevant? Things have changed in ways we couldn’t have predicted. There are many very good epubs out there now and there’s indie publishing. Authors don’t have to scramble and beat themselves up trying to get a contract with one of the big print publishers or with an agent. I’ve seen calls go out from many RWA chapters begging for more entries for their contests. It seems not too many authors are entering their unpublished manuscripts nowadays.
I’ve been talking about competitions for unpublished manuscripts. Let’s discuss published books. I enter my published books in contests solely to increase my sales and get my name out there.
Lately I’ve had some luck. Two of my books finaled in two contests each. I use the results in my promotions. Has my contest success helped sales? Haven’t a clue. I’ve seen no bump in sales for one book, but the other has had a nice sales jump. Was it because of the contest rankings? Who knows?
How do you authors feel about contests? Love ‘em, hate ‘em, indifferent? Do you enter contests for published and/or unpublished works? I want to hear from the readers out there too. Do you buy books on the basis of contest results? Do you care if a book has won contests? Many romance authors dream of having one of their books final in the RITA, RWA’s premier competition for excellence in books. Do readers know what the RITA is, and does it make a difference to them if a book is a RITA finalist? This inquiring mind wants to know.