I freely and fully admit that I’m a contest junkie. Yes, I love the validation that comes from contest wins and finals, but I also look at these contests as promotion. I’m putting my books in the hands of people who might not have read me otherwise. If they like the book, they might buy my next one. If I win or final, my name and title get plastered all over the place and folks might think, “hmm, maybe I should read that book, too.” It also gives me something to blog about occasionally. ~grin~
But contests cost money. And it’s money out of my pocket, not my publisher’s. Plus, it takes time to enter, get everything together, and make a trip to the post office. If I’m going to invest time, money, and books, I want to be sure that I’m getting my money’s worth.
There are dozens of contests and I simply can’t enter them all. So, after doing this for a couple of years, I’m starting to develop a list of criteria that helps me decide which contests I’m going to invest my time and money in.
Let me just say that I loved to enter contests before I was published as well, but the unpublished contests are a different animal entirely. The criteria is different because my needs were different.
*Quality and judges* Some contests have heft just because they’ve been around for a while or they’re known to be tough to win. I will look and see how long a contest has been running and the past names of winners to see if winning this contest will be something I can brag about. I realize it can take time to build a reputation like that. But I will pick a contest with reader judges over another one. Not published authors or aspiring writers. I want Jane Reader to be a judge, because Jane Reader is my target audience. I want Betsy Bookseller to be a judge, because Betsy will recommend my book to her customers. I want Lucy Librarian to be a judge, because she’ll recommend my book to her patrons. I realize it’s harder to find these reader judges (and it can be very tempting for a RWA chapter to use their own members just because it’s easier), but from a promotional point of view, reader judges are a far better choice for me. (And I know the argument that writers are readers too, but writers come in to a book differently than a reader.) Granted, the RITA is peer-judged, but that’s its cache, like the Oscars. When it comes right down to it, I want readers judging me because that’s who I’m writing for.
*Win or Final – that’s all I need to know* Honestly, that’s all I need to know, because that’s all I’m going to share. I like being able to say “BOOK is a finalist in this contest! Cross fingers for me!” Needless to say, that means I like to know when my book has made the shortlist. If I win, I will then broadcast that news as far and wide as I can. What I’m not going to do is say “BOOK finished in third place.” Outside of the Olympics, no one cares who took home third place, and it’s a letdown. If I don’t actually win, I can believe I missed it by thismuch. Third place means that I missed it by quite a lot. Win or final: that’s all I really need to know. (If you want to do something for the other finalists, give everyone other than the winner an “Award of Merit” or some such. I’ll post an “Award of Merit” much more readily than “Third Place.”) Oh, and honestly, I don’t care what my scores were. Either I finaled or I didn’t. I also don’t need critique/comments from the judges. The book is published; it’s not like I can go change something.
*Be Loud and Proud* Remember, I’m in this for the glory and the promo op. The book that just finaled or won is a year old by now, but this is promo for my next book, too. So spread the word! I’m not saying that you have to take out a full-page ad in one of the magazines, but post it on your website and blog. Send emails to the writers’ loops. Help me get my name out there. If this is just a private conversation between us, I’m not going to spend my contest budget just for a congratulatory email from the contest coordinator.
*Offer me something* At the very least, create a logo that I can post on my website and blog that says I’m a winner or finalist. If you have a popular blog, invite the winners or finalists to come guest blog. Trophies and do-dads are nice, too, because they make me happy when I can put them on my wall, but aren’t always necessary. An actual, attractive certificate should be mandatory. Otherwise, I realize you’re only doing this to collect entry fees. I know it’s not cheap to run a contest, and you’re probably doing this to raise cash for something, but honestly, I need to know I’m going to get something in return if I win. If I’m just filling your coffers, I’m less likely to spend the money.
*Be Professional* If you’re going to miss a deadline (like when finalists or winners will be announced), let the entrants know. I do have announcement dates filed in the back of my mind, and I will eventually start to wonder when I haven’t heard. Spell my name right. Get my title right. Again, this is a promo op for me, and if you announce that Kim Langer is a finalist with her book It Happened in Rio, it’s no longer a promo op and my money was wasted. (And I won’t be entering next year.)
This is not a rant. Far from it. Like I said, I am a contest junkie. I love to enter contests and consider it a valuable use of my promo budget. But my budget is not infinite. I have to weigh the pros and cons of every contest before I decide which ones to enter. And the more contests I enter, the more I refine my list of what is and isn't a valuable investment. Everyone’s budget is tight these days, and if I’m not entering your contest, *your* organization’s budget gets a little tighter too.
So as the 2012 contest season starts its engines, I’m chomping at the bit. I’m very proud of the books that will be eligible this time and can’t wait to see how they do on the contest circuit.
No matter what contest you’re entering – from the RITAs to the local SoapBox derby – I hope you bring home the prize! (Unless you’re in my category, and then I hope you do almost as well as me!)