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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Year Five

It’s hard to believe that 2017 marks my fifth year as a published author. All my major life events, from house moves to jobs, have been based around 5- and 10-year plans, so this year I have some thinking to do on where I go from here. At the moment, I’m in a new job that’s using up a lot of brain power and struggling to stay creative. It’s the first time in five years that I’m wrapping up editing on a project, and I don’t have the next one lined up ready to go. More and more I find myself wondering if writing is worth it.

I never went into this adventure looking to get rich. I knew my limitations from the start; I’m terrible at self-promotion, I have a full time job, I’m slow, and I don’t write what sells. I had no illusions. I can’t compete with an author who pumps out four or more books a year. Money is not what’s bringing me down. It’s the other stuff I find soul-sucking, like:

  • the expanding threat of plagiarism and “pop-up” authors out to scam the system
  • genre drama that brings legitimate writers down
  • the instability of indie publishers and etailers and questionable professionalism
  • piracy and a general lack of value for other people’s work
  • proliferation of readers who will read anything as long as it only costs 99 cents

Do Not Disturb"" sign on hotel room's door2016 was a brutal year in my genre with respect to the above, and I’m not sure 2017 will be better. I’ll explore these areas more throughout the year, as well as my attempts to get my groove back.

In the meantime, looking at 2017, I started out the year releasing a self-published short story collection of erotic (steamy) romances. Do Not Disturb is available at Amazon and Kobo.

backtoyou_200x300And in June, my second novel with Riptide will be released. It’s called Back to You, and is a romantic suspense I’m pretty proud of. It marks a move toward more mainstream fiction for me. More on that to come.

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Telling Tales

For as long as I can remember, I have always “lived in my head”, accompanied by an ever revolving host of characters who keep me company. When I was younger, I thought everyone did this; it wasn’t until I was out in the world at university that I realized how untrue this assumption was. My roommates got bored—they always needed to be with someone, or doing something—whereas I enjoyed simply laying on my bed daydreaming. I still do! Bored? How could you possibly be bored when your imagination is right there?

I credit my unique gift to summers spent at the family cottage on Georgian Bay where on a good day, we got one television channel, and there was nothing to do but play board games, read and sun ourselves on the dock. My parents were teachers, so we’d pack up at the end of June and not come back until Labour Day. In fact, my earliest memories are of me and my sister spending the 2.5 hour drive pretending to be fashionable nineteenth century ladies in our coach. How many seven-year-olds do that these days?

A black and white photograph of a man in front of a car circa 1920s

My grandfather, the original story teller.

On rainy days when we were stuck inside, we’d go through Grandma’s Sears catalogue, pretending to be models whose houses had burned down, and now we needed to buy everything we needed, from clothes to home furnishings. We even had a budget and everything.

I’ve been privileged to have two pivotal story tellers in my life. The first is my grandfather who regaled us on quiet evenings with tales of his boyhood in turn of the century Toronto; from delivering milk by horse and carriage, to stealing cookies from the kitchen, he was a troublemaker and had so many entertaining stories to tell. To learn years after his passing that he and my grandmother had no marriage certificate (he was a thirty year old man who talked an eighteen year old woman into eloping to Buffalo, but there are no official records) and that my aunt was an “early baby” was no real surprise. In fact it seemed fitting. From him I also got my love of history.

The book my cousin wrote for us.

The book my cousin wrote and illustrated for us almost thirty years ago.

My cousin must have inherited some of his talent. She was, and still is, one of those people you can listen to for hours. Back then, we would go on long walks in the woods and she would entertain us with often scary stories of three cousins who got into trouble exploring and had to rely on each other to save themselves. I don’t know how many hours she must have spent over the course of a dozen or more summers building up stories for us. She would parse out a bit each day and we would pester her mercilessly for more. At the time it seemed like magic, the way she could rattle something off the top of her head. Of course now, I realize how much work must have gone into it. She even wrote a book for us one Christmas. She was the one who taught me that you could create characters in your head, and now thirty-some-odd years later, I can’t imagine living without them.

I’m not a story teller—I’m no good verbally and that is an art I will never possess—but I like to think I’m carrying on that family legacy of spinning tales in my own fashion.

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