James Ventrillo is the president of Readers’ Favorite, which runs one of the most popular book award contests online. Here are some of his tips to help you pick quality contests and help you aim for the gold.
Why should I enter a book award contest?
Entering a book award contest is not only about recognition, but the advertising benefits of that recognition. Entering a book contest is like paying to run an ad about your book. You need to look at how much it will cost and what your potential advertising return is. Book Award Contests–good ones–have a significant return for the money. If you are honored with an award, then all of your advertising can be enhanced with an impressive award seal and the words “award-winning book.” You will also have forever earned the title of award-winning author. This type of recognition goes a long way, and is probably the single greatest advertising enhancement one can obtain for their book, except for maybe an endorsement from a celebrity.
Of course the more valuable the win, the larger the contest and the greater your competition. Winning Bob’s Best Book of the Month doesn’t quite compete with a Newbery or Pulitzer. But there are many contests in between that are provided by reputable companies and organizations. The trick is picking the right ones.
Should book award contests charge an entry fee?
The single greatest debate among authors about book contests is should they charge an entry fee. So let’s clarify this topic and define the two main types of book award contests. The first type and generally the most renowned book award contests are the ones that operate from a budget provided from another source like an endowment or foundation, or a large company where the contest is considered a means of advertising rather than a revenue source. In these cases they generally have little or no entrance fee and have strict entry guidelines, but often provide wonderful benefits to the winners. Authors should enter as many of these as they qualify for.
The second type of book award contests are ones from companies without such backing that still want to offer a contest but have to charge money in order to pay for the expenses of running the contest. Authors should consider each of these companies based on the balance between the entry fee and the value of winning. Basically, is what you get when you win worth the fee?
What to look for in a book award contest
This is actually much easier than most authors think. The best way to consider a contest is to do so from the reader’s point of view instead of the author’s. Most readers have only heard of a couple of really big awards, generally from the first type of contests I mentioned. So for all others they will be judging the award by the appearance of the award seal on your book or marketing materials. If it is a cheesy looking seal they will generally assume it is a cheesy award. The same goes for the company’s website. Does their website look professional? Do they have respectable affiliations within their industry? Next look at what the contest offers to its winners. If the fee is worth what you win, and it is within your budget, then you should enter the contest.
How much is too much to pay for a book award contest?
This really depends on your budget. To be honest, no fee is too great if the value from winning is there. For example, if there was a contest that would get you on CNN if you won, but it cost $10,000 to enter, I would consider taking out a second mortgage on my home. I would get a hundred reviews for my book to make sure everyone loved it, hire a great editor to make sure it was flawless, and read any articles on past winners of the award to ensure my story had a good chance. And if it did, you bet I would do everything I could to enter.
Book award contests are just like book reviews. You should be trying to get a book review from as many people and companies as you can, and the same goes for contests. You should be entering as many valuable contests as you can afford.
Image is everything
Remember, you are the reader. You’re browsing through books in your favorite genre and you spot one with an award seal on it. Have you heard of this award? If not, how does the seal look? Does it look professional? What is the name of the award?
The name of the award can be as important as the appearance of the seal. For instance, you would not want your award seal to say DISCOUNT AWARDS as the company name, or BOB’S PICKS, unless Bob is an icon in the literary industry. We feel our name, Readers’ Favorite, is a pretty good name for an award (apologies for the shameless plug). But I think you will find that most awards have a good name, and some are downright great. One of my favorites is the Mom’s Choice award, a great award name if ever there was one. Although expensive, if you have a children’s book they are certainly a company to consider.
How to lose a book award contest fast!
So you found a good contest and are ready to throw your money away and lose huge, right? No? Oh, then you will want to make sure your book has a clean format and has been thoroughly proofread. Otherwise it is headed for the losers’ pile.
Nothing insults a reader more than a lazy author. You are asking someone to not only read your book, but to say it is worthy of an award. It takes real stones to ask someone to do that and then give them a book that hasn’t even been finished. And believe me, if you have not had it proofread, it is not finished.
Ideally this is what you should do. I know it is expensive, but consider an editor, someone who can pick apart your book and tell you what characters you should lose, what sections make no sense, where you screwed up your POV, or why the ending fell flat. After you have fixed all the problems the editor found, then hire a proofreader to find the grammatical errors. You can find a good editor and proofreader on sites like Elance.com, where you can get them to bid on your work.
Next, make sure you use headers and footers to put in page numbers and the title of your book, and consider a table of contents. Use a standard font and font size (for most books). Get creative with your story, not your fonts. Now when you enter your book you know the reader will be able to enjoy your story and give it the ranking it deserves. Good luck!
[Note: you can also save 17% on editing services when you use FirstEditing.com. They’ll even edit a sample of your book for free so you can see if you enjoy the process.]