Should You Enter a Contest?

Not long ago I saw an ad on Facebook for a book contest. Two writer friends had “Liked” it, and the contest sounded great: free advertising for a period of time and a certificate/label you could use on your book if you won. Also, for this month, they’d reduced the cost of entering the contest.

I’m always looking for ways to advertise my books, and with ECHOES OF TERROR recently released, I thought I would look into this contest. So, I visited the website, read the testimonials from previous entrants and winners, and looked at the entry requirements and entry form. Not a cheap contest, but one I could afford. I filled out the form and printed it, along with one of the press releases (requested) that I’d used for ECHOES (back in March), but I didn’t have an envelope that would be good for sending the book, paperwork, and check, so everything went on hold. I would buy a padded envelope the next day.

Which I did, but then I started thinking. I’m always telling others to check  WRITERS BEWARE  before signing with an agent or publisher. Would that site have information about contests?

So I checked, and sure enough, this particular contest was listed as one to beware of. According to the site, the contest wasn’t dishonest; it just wasn’t worth the cost. It wasn’t a contest that was going to impress anyone in the industry, and it was doubtful readers/book buyers would be influenced by a win (assuming I did win, which wasn’t a given) or see the advertising the contest promised.

I also remembered what one of the agents said during Sleuthfest 2017: “Unless it’s a big name contest (RITA, EDGAR, DAPHNE, etc.) winning a contest doesn’t influence him.”

Benefits to entering contests

  1. Some contests give feedback
  2. Some are judged by agents or editors
  3. Entering unpublished work forces the writer to finish and edit the ms
  4. Winning any contest gives an ego boost. (Writers always need that.)
  5. If you win, you can put a medallion on the cover of your book and that looks impressive.

What to beware of

  1. High entry fees. This doesn’t necessarily mean the contest is a rip-off, but you need to look closely at any contest charging above $50. Also, if the contest offers money as prizes, will winning at least off-set your entry fee?
  2. Offer of a contract. This is often a come-on for vanity presses. (I do know a writer who won the Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Award contest. He ended up with a contract with St. Martin’s Press. That’s a legitimate contest. I know another writer who won a contract with a publisher I’d never heard of. She’s been sorry every since.)
  3. Everybody wins. This is often for poetry or short stories. The gimmick is you win inclusion in an anthology which you are then expected to purchase. Or, if we’re talking about a novel, the book is published, but the writer is now expected to purchase a hundred or more copies at a price much higher than if the writer self-published.

My final decision? I didn’t enter the contest.

Have you ever entered a contest and afterwards been sorry you did?

For more on scams go to: Contest Scams

For a list of legitimate (recognized) writing contestsLegitimate Writing Contests

Also, I belong to the Mid-Michigan RWA Chapter and they are running a Best Banter Contest. Entry fee is $20 ($15 for MMRWA members). For all entrants the first round will receive a critique with comments from published authors, RWA Pro members, and industry professionals. There are 4 categories for published authors and 4 for unpublished writers. Finalists will have their work read and judged by top industry agents and editors. Finalists in each category will receive a “Finalist” badge to display on their websites and social media. Winners names and entry title will be listed in RWR’s “Contest Winners” section late Fall 2017/early Winter 2018 and will receive a “Winner” badge to display on their websites and social media. For more information, go to:

Best Banter Contest Button

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16 Responses to Should You Enter a Contest?

  1. Great advice. Thanks for sharing. I haven’t submitted to any contest but recently wondered about Rita and such…

  2. I don’t know if the description “award-winning” sells books, but if anything enter contests for the feedback. Many contests use editors and agents as judges so that’s always great to get industry critiques. I ended up receiving an offer after entering a contest that I didn’t even win. Recently at RT, I heard the same story from a publisher spotlight in which one of the entries didn’t win but had impressed them so much with her voice, she now has books coming from that publisher (top 5, great house).

    • Maris Soule says:

      Jessica, that’s an excellent example of why entering contests that are judged by agents or editors is worthwhile. Not only do you get professional feedback, you may get a contract.

  3. Beware, be smart regarding entering a contest. Now about this one coming up in Michigan, hmm, sounds good. For the first time, I may enter . The price is reasonable so I’ll give it a shot. Thanks, Maris.

  4. Zara West says:

    Great post. I agree that one good reason to enter contests is to get feedback. So I always check that feedback is included. I have found the RWA Chapter contests I have entered to all be high level with great feedback.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Zara, I agree regarding the RWA chapter contests. The same can be said for other large (national) writers’ group contests. The contest I almost entered didn’t seem to have any affiliation …other than to make someone money.

  5. Gina Conkle says:

    Hi Maris,
    When I first started writing, I entered for the feedback and to get my work in front of agents and editors. (Next time I see you, remind me to tell you about the laugh my son, Chad and I had over my “F” grade). Those few contests I entered were well worth it.

    Now as a published author, between 2 books I’ve entered two books in 7 or 8 contests total: the Rita (twice…for my 2015 entry, I got a note at the bottom of my score sheet telling me I’d missed finaling by 0.025%), Magnolia (entered once, I finaled), Desert Rose (twice, finaled once), and Holt, Book Buyer’s Best, and Bookseller’s Best without making the finalist cut…the same book that almost finaled in Rita Short Historical!

    I didn’t see any noticeable bumps in sales for finaling with book 1. Book 1 (that finaled in other contests) scored worse in the Ritas versus Book 2 that scored higher as an “almost Rita finalist, yet didn’t final anywhere else. I had a laugh over that!

    Then, I re-read my author goals written when I was first published. You know what? Contest accolades weren’t on my list. I didn’t enter a single contest last year. I’m happy for my writer friends who do well finaling and/or winning. It is a noteworthy honor. Yet, they too saw no bump in sales.

    I may enter future contests, but taking a look at that list was a great reminder to keep to my writer’s path. And thank you for sharing the Best Banter Contest. 🙂

    • Maris Soule says:

      Gina, thanks for the overview of your experiences and how entering contests affected your sales (or didn’t). I think entering when you’re unpublished and getting the feedback is really helpful. When it’s allowed, even now that I’m published, I’ve entered unpublished pieces to get feedback.

  6. I’ve also blogged about being wary of contests. You really have to read the fine print. Many are just trying to collect free material. Often it will say whether you win or not, the work you submitted becomes the property of that publication. Some contests do have prestige, but most don’t. Writer beware!

    • Maris Soule says:

      What gets me, Jacqueline, is I almost entered that contest before deciding to check Writers Beware. They do make the contests sound wonderful. As you said, read the fine print.

  7. Melissa Keir says:

    Wonderful advice. I’ve stopped entering contests because most of them are popularity.

  8. Sharon says:

    Lots of great information, thank you! I have entered one contest- tell a story with exactly 100 words. I didn’t win, and I really wasn’t expecting too, it more or less was a challenge to myself.
    The great part is- the piece I wrote gave me a great idea for my second WIP.

    • Maris Soule says:

      That is a challenge, Sharon. I believe I’ve seen that contest listed. I’ve never tried entering. I don’t think I could keep the word count that low.