A Publisher's Conversations with Authors: Contests and Competitions


It is Tuesday. Time to tall turkey. Monday's madness is over, and Wednesday will take us over the hump, so Tuesday it is--for some serious discussion with authors. Tuesday talks mean to address authors in waiting and self-published authors who would like to go a more traditional route or who would at least like to take their steps with a publisher by their side.

Today's topic is about contests and competitions. Should you participate? Is the effort (and, depending upon competition, cost) worth it. How do you decide which contests to enter? What are the positives and negatives of entering a competition?

So, let's take each question separately.

Should you participate; is it worth it?

  • There is often a financial cost, as well as a time cost and a psychological-emotional cost associated with contests and competitions. So, the first question to answer is whether you have the money, time, and temperament to enter your book into competitions. (It is sort of like entering your baby into a pretty baby contest--no one wants NOT to win such a competition so the prospect of not winning can be off-putting. If it is, don't do it.)
  • Not all contests and competitions are the same. Some are very well known and respected and in the best cases free. Those are the best ones to hope to win, but they are usually out of the reach of new or unknown authors. Worth a try, of course, but not something to hitch your wagon to. There are other, respected contests with more categories and a greater chance to win an award and a modest fee (enough to pay judges a small fee but nothing more).
  • Many, if not most competitions, are restricted to the current publication year, so if your book comes out toward the end of the year, you must hurry-hurry. Can you manage that reasonably? Alternatively, you can look for contests, like the Eric Hoffer Award, that has a legacy category.
  • Some competitions can be expensive. The general consensus seems to be that these are not worth the effort and cost. MSI Press does not recommend such competitions to its authors. Better to use your limited funds (most authors are not rich) on a larger number of less pricey contests (less than $60 is our general guideline, but definitely less than $100 as an absolute standard).
  • You should make yourself very familiar with what the contest organizers are looking for. Only send to those where you book fits well. Those I'll-try-it-anyway-just-in-case nearly never work out. One of our authors has won the same award, a good one but a respected publishers' association, for all three of his books. They meet the criteria, and he enters those contests confidently now. Other MSI Press authors have won gold and bronze medals because their books were such close matches to what the contest called for. So, do your research. Study not only the criteria but also what books have won in the past. (You might even read some of those books at your local library.)
  • Beware of manuscript contests that promise to publish the book of the winner. There are many ways to get your book published; this is not one of the best ways. In fact, some of these contests are scams, so if you decided to enter, do so only after careful research.

So what are the positives and negatives of competing in book award contests?

  • On the positive side, being able to tout your book as award-winning helps in some marketing quarters though some of our best-selling books have no award to their names; authors never were excited about entering contests, and that is okay. When our books do win awards, we can and do use that information as additional opportunity for promotion. Of course, some readers think that having an award can indicate that at least some judge thought their books were good and therefore so should potential readers. There is some sense to that reasoning.
  • On the negative side, if you have limited financial resources for promoting your book, there are probably more certain venues for spending it than in the possibility of winning a contest. If you have limited time resources for promotional activities, writing an article on the topic of your book will probably be more effective than filling out forms, packaging and mailing books, and communicating with contest organizers. And if you have limited emotional resources for managing rejection, then a negative review from a judge (remember, they are individuals with their own subjectivities and no two necessarily agree absolutely) can be a "con" in the pros and cons columns of whether to participate in contests.

Want to do some more reading on this topic? There is not a lot of good information available. Sure, there are lists of contests; just google them. The information from the organizers is not necessarily the most objective information available. At MSI Press, we direct our authors to the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) contest list and information post because that association has done a good job of evaluating which contests are worth entering and which are not. Here is the link to the SFWA POST. It contains a lot of warnings worth heeding, much more detail on the items above, and listings/evaluations you can trust.

Lesson for today's Tuesday talk: Put contests into perspective!
Participating in contests can be fun, especially if you do not expect to win but hope to. You can, indeed, win awards if you learn all you can about the contest and only send your book to ones where it fits. Most important, research the contest; enter only legitimate ones.

Read more posts about publishing HERE.

The Tuesday talks reflect real discussions between the management of MSI Press LLC and our own authors or those would-be authors who come through our doors but don't make the cut--yet. If you have a topic you would like addressed, leave the question in the comment section. Chances are, in our 17 years of publishing first-time and experiences authors, we have had a conversation with one of our authors that we can share with you.


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