Writing contests are an invaluable way for independent authors to get their work in front of judges, peer reviewers, and industry professionals, while offering them the opportunity to attach some prestigious accolades to their work. Contests may range from a full-length manuscript submission, down to a light-hearted attempt to summarize your work in 140-characters or less for posting in Twitter. Some contests call on authors to create their two-sentence “elevator pitch” and one recent competition even required its entrants to write a humorous haiku summarizing their entire novels.
Many contests rely on an entry fee or reading fee, usually within the range of $10 to $30, and that fee occasionally benefits a charitable organization or event, allowing the author-entrants to feel good about their participation in the contest and its resulting giveback.
One of the rare gems in the world of writing contests is the Amazon.com Breakthrough Novel Awards, a full-length novel contest that actually requires no entry fee. This competition, first staged for unpublished writers in 2007, takes its contestants through finalist levels.
The first stage of the contest narrows the field from the original cut-off of 5,000 submissions to 1,000 each in the fields of fiction and young adult fiction through the pitch, based on each entrant’s query letter. From there, the entries diminish monthly, first to 250 in each of the two categories, then fifty quarter-finalists each. Once the top three finalists in each genre are announced, those authors are actually awarded publishing packages from CreateSpace and the overall winners in fiction and young adult fiction are awarded a contract with a $15,000 advance with Penguin Group (USA).
Another increasingly popular judging option for authors is to submit their manuscripts to a peer-judged process, such as WEBook’s PageToFame. The concept for PageToFame allows authors to submit one page of their manuscripts at a time and fellow members assign it a rating. Once a page receives a good rating percentage from a pre-determined number of voters, it advances to the next step, the five-page feedback, and after that it’s on to the final round, fifty pages offered up to the members for review.
“The ratings let literary agents and publishers know what real readers want to see on the shelves,” notes the WEBook.com PageToFame FAQ page.
“Besides the honest feedback that writers receive through PageToFame, it can really help the economics of book publishing by allowing publishers to focus more on books that have already proven their market appeal, rather than relying solely on editorial tastes and instincts. Plus, by having a book go through this type of exposure, the author already starts to develop a following that can help drive word-of-mouth for when that book is published,” says Ardy Khazaei, president of WEBook.com.
Quite a number of ABNA and WEBook participants, along with alumni from other well-known writing contests, move on to self-publish their books with positive results after receiving some very beneficial unbiased feedback. To add to their credit, participants who advance to the ABNA Quarter Finals actually receive two reviews of their work read by judges from Publisher’s Weekly, which can look very encouraging when submitting a manuscript to a small press or even when considering traditional publishing.
The real reward to authors who participate in open-call writing contests is the chance for genuine feedback from judges and from fellow writers, and in the long run that feedback can be worth more than the cost of any entry fee.