Of writing contests and self-promotion

Generally, I’m not a fan of contests of any sort. Possibly because I have the worst luck when it comes to those types of things, and as someone who’s never been top or best anything there’s likely some internalized, deep-seated bitterness at work too. Book contests in particular make me cringe. For me personally as a reader they do little to influence my selections, but they can hold a lot of sway for others, so as a writer you can’t just ignore them.

Last year I decided to take a chance and enter my gay romance novel Until September (Riptide Publishing) in a couple of contests. I was proud of my effort and felt it was something that showcased me as a writer. And, I won’t lie, there was a (not so) small part of me seeking validation because it never took off the way I hoped it would. The more logical, rational side of my brain said if all else failed, it would be good exposure and I should look at it as a marketing exercise, especially since I’m terrible at self-promotion. Out of three contests entered, Until September reached the shortlist of one, is a category finalist in another, and didn’t place in the third. Which only goes to prove… absolutely nothing.

Along the way, I learned a few things which I thought I’d capture here.

  • Contests can get expensive, so be selective. Most have some sort of fee to enter. The ethics of paying to enter a contest still trouble me, even in cases when I know the money is going to a good cause. I also understand there needs to be a way to offset costs or cut down on submissions. To ease my conscience, I chose to look at it as paid advertising rather than that I was paying for consideration.
  • It takes a lot of work to run a contest, so follow deadlines and instructions and don’t make the organizers chase you. That’s just inconsiderate and reflects poorly on you.
  • Book contests tend to fall into two camps, popular and literary, and if you don’t fall neatly into either it can still be a challenge to get recognized. It’s important to understand who the committee and judges are and how they are likely to receive your work so you don’t waste your time and/or money. If judges are average readers and your book isn’t geared to mass market, perhaps it’s not the best fit. It would be a bit like submitting an indie film to the People’s Choice Awards.
  • How visible or prestigious is the contest? Some are geared toward the publishing industry, while others are more reader focused. How do those fit with your long term goals and objectives? For myself, I’m trying to raise my profile and get into libraries and bookstores which is why I entered the ones I did.
  • Be prepared for hard feelings. No matter how far you distance yourself from it, or how objective you may try to be, it still feels like a rejection if you don’t make it. Of the three contests, there was one in particular that meant more to me than the others. I longed to not necessarily win, but at least make it to the finals, and when Until September failed to place, it was a crushing blow at a time when I was already struggling with a lack of confidence.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled Until September has been chosen as a Foreword Reviews’ prestigious Book of the Year Awards finalist in the Romance category! In a competition with over 2200 other entrants, it’s pretty great to have made it this far, and I want to make the most of the opportunity. Despite reigning in my hopes, my fingers are still crossed for the end of June when winners are announced.

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