Contests are one of the best vehicles for aspiring authors out there… or at least so goes the conventional wisdom, and there is no denying that in some instances they can be a wonderful opportunity. The only problem is that there are also a whole bunch of other instances.
Now, I’m not knocking all contests, but one of the first things you have to do before you enter one is… to make sure that you can turn the prize down. Why would you want to do that? Well, let’s face it, the main draw of some of these contests is that they offer you a way into the walled garden of paid authors without having to go through those dreaded gatekeepers, known as ‘the agents’. That’s good, except for the fact that you don’t really know the terms you are agreeing to. Granted, in the real world a new author doesn’t really have that much bargaining power either, but at least you get to read the contract before you sign on the dotted line, and if there is a clause in there that you really can’t live with, well, you can always choose to walk away. Beware of the fact that by entering a contest you may be giving up that particular right.
Another thing I find hilarious is that the people arguing contests are an unknown author’s best friends are all too often the same people who argue against self-publishing and reading fees. Money should always flow towards the author, they say… but they make an exception for contest entry fees. Okay, I understand that organizing a contest does entail some expenses, but let’s look at the deal those organizers are getting out of this: they get hundreds, if not thousands, of submissions plus fees that more than allow them to recoup any expenses they may have incurred in in the process, and they also get their pick of hundreds/thousands of works… with the added benefit that authors don’t even have a right to see what kind of terms they are agreeing to. Oh, and while they are at it they also often claim exclusive rights to the entry while the contest is underway (something that can translate into more than six months), meaning that the authors are effectively frozen in place until they deign to come down with a verdict. That is ridiculous.
Is self-publishing ideal? No, nowhere near it, and it certainly isn’t for everyone. It is hard work, and chances are that your book will languish in obscurity for all times no matter what you do, but the thing is that right now authors can have their book published with some pretty favorable terms for less than what it would cost them to enter a single contest… and the sad fact remains that writing contests, just like publishing and self-publishing, is a field that is rife with scam artists. You may not be getting much out of self-publishing, but at least what you get out of it is a known quantity.
It’s a tough world for authors out there, and the bottom line is that whether you are looking to enter a contest, publish your book, trying to find an agent, or trying to determine what your best option for self-publishing happens to be, you have to be very, very careful… that, and to keep typing.