Evaluating the Contest Win

Contests take time and money to enter. Are they worth it?

For the Unpublished Author: A contest win shows that a set of judges believes this author possesses talent. When the unpublished author is seeking an agent or publisher, a contest win adds to the author’s credibility. Not only does it show potential, but the fact that the author is entering contests shows commitment to the profession.

For the Independently Published Author: A contest win adds cachet and credibility. The author can publicize the award to show readers that others agree the author writes exceptional books.

For the Traditionally Published Author: This author already has proven that he can attract the attention of a publisher and, particularly at a major house, has a team of marketing professionals behind the book. A contest win gives the traditionally published author an additional boost, showing potential readers that the author’s work has been singled out for an award.

Sales: Years ago, one mother told me she only bought books for her children that had won a Caldecott or Newbery Award. While I think readers should be open to a variety of books, it’s true there’s a small percentage of readers who’ll take the shortcut of buying books with award stickers when choosing gifts or personal reading.

Regardless when an author wins an award, the recognition is always welcome and does help distinguish the author as someone worth noting. So yes, I recommend entering contests. As to which ones? Ask your agent for guidance.

Your turn:

Does an award affect your decision to buy a book?

What contests do you most respect?

43 Responses to Evaluating the Contest Win

  1. Rebekah Love Dorris December 7, 2017 at 5:27 am #

    That’s a really good point. I place a lot of weight on contests – as a reader. As a writer I’ve shunned them, since I’m not sure my confidence could handle the crush of defeat. Yet,

    The two contests that impress me as a reader are the Christy awards and the ECPA Gold Medallion awards. I’ve read enough of both to know any book sporting one of those won’t disappoint.

  2. Tracey Dyck December 7, 2017 at 6:23 am #

    I don’t follow or pay attention to many contests (as a reader and book-buyer)…but I do closely follow my favorite authors, so if they win something, I’m all ears!

    I’m glad to hear that contests help build an author’s credibility, though. I’ve entered all of Rooglewood Press’s fairytale retelling contests, and each one has taught me something valuable! Writing under a deadline, writing under specific guidelines, opening myself to rejection and being okay with it, receiving the validation of being a runner-up, discovering more of my voice, etc. So even without a major win under my belt yet, contests have been instrumental in my growth as a writer! πŸ™‚

    • Tamela Hancock Murray December 7, 2017 at 7:39 am #

      Authors love faithful readers, Tracey!

      Glad you have learned from contests. πŸ™‚

  3. Damon J. Gray December 7, 2017 at 6:55 am #

    Perhaps I’m missing something, but in all candor, to me, these are just background noise. it strikes me as terribly subjective. I usually do not know who the judges are, what the organization is or what they believe in, what criteria are used for the assessments being made, etc.

    The thing that perks my ears is when a respected friend or colleague says, “Hey, this is a great book. You should consider reading it.” That is also subjective, but it is coming from someone I know and admire.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray December 7, 2017 at 7:38 am #

      Damon, if you’re inclined, you can find out who contest judges are and learn about the organization by looking at their websites. Most contest entry forms encourage authors to enter in part by promising that the finalists’ work will be judged by certain industry professionals. So if you’re looking to impress particular people, that can be a way to get your work read by them.

      However, recommendations from friends are always a great way to learn about new books!

  4. Melissa Henderson December 7, 2017 at 6:58 am #

    Thank you for this information. I plan to enter contests in the future. πŸ™‚

  5. Yvonne Weers December 7, 2017 at 7:03 am #

    Years ago when I worked for the library system, I made it a goal to read as many Newberry and Caldecott winners as possible. I was also homeschooling my children at that time. What I discovered is that a pattern emerged in many of the winners’ books with certain social agendas. I won’t go any further in this comment on what the agendas were, but I came to the conclusion that, like authors, panels of judges also gravitate toward certain ways of thinking. As Christians, we always need to be vigilant in making sure that what we’re presenting to our children mirrors the values we teach in our homes.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray December 7, 2017 at 7:34 am #

      Oh, wow, I hadn’t thought about that but I have no doubt you’re correct. Good point.

    • Linda Riggs Mayfield December 7, 2017 at 8:45 am #

      Yvonne, about 3 years ago in a huge Chicago bookstore I saw a large freestanding display dedicated to previous Caldecott and Newberry winners still in print. Evidence supporting your observation about social agendas was extremely evident when years of winners were displayed together like that! My favorite is still Robert McCloskey’s 1948 Blueberries for Sal, however. I think its agendas were parents and children working together outdoors, eating fresh food, and practicing live and let live. And I love
      the illustrations. ☺

    • Mark Stevenson December 7, 2017 at 10:17 am #

      Yvonne Weer, this is an excellent point. I am currently creating a personal rating system for contests so next year I am wiser for my expectations, as they are. Even though I am writing my debut novel, I started a NaNo project weeks ago and came to the conclusion I wanted to instead go to three short stories and progress them. So, knowing where to “cast out” is similar to perusing agency’s once my novel is finished. Thank you for the point!

  6. Loretta Eidson December 7, 2017 at 7:13 am #

    If it hadn’t been for contests, I wouldn’t have found you. I fully believe in contests, but I don’t limit what I read to contest winners. I favor ACFW’s contests and value feedback from the judges. Contests are great ways to get your name in front of agents and editors and show them you mean business.

  7. Christine L Henderson December 7, 2017 at 7:35 am #

    I don’t buy a book because it has won a contest. I buy it on the reviews and by reading the book blurb to see if it intrigues me. There are Pulitzer prize winners that I would have no interest in reading.

    Reading a book is a personal decision and what e few judges like, may not be what I like. Look at the Oscars – it’s rare these days I’d even go see the “best” movies of the year.

  8. Martha Whiteman Rogers December 7, 2017 at 7:51 am #

    As an author, I don’t pay a lot of attention to contest winners. Most of the time I’ve already read the book by the time the award is announced because those authors are among my favorite authors anyway. When I buy books for my great-grandchildren (I did the same for grands) I read through the book first to make sure it follows what we want them to learn. Shopping in Christian book stores makes that easier.

    I have the greatest respect for the Christy, Carol, and the Gold Medallion awards. I won an award from ACFW the first year of the contest and that book is now in print because of the great comments and suggestions from the contest judges that made the book so much better.

  9. Carol Ashby December 7, 2017 at 7:55 am #

    A book winning a contest has no effect on whether I buy it.

    I do believe contests like Genesis are very useful for new writers. Judges told me I needed to write 3rd person limited POV instead of omniscient, but they liked my plot summaries. That gave me confidence to pour energy into learning the new style, and reviews tell me at least some readers love the stories rewritten in the newer style.

    A caveat: I could have been a volunteer judge while I still knew too little about good craft, so not everything the Genesis judges say should be taken without question. But with that in mind, it’s still worth every penny of the entrance fee.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray December 7, 2017 at 12:34 pm #

      Yes, and even some “experts” disagree so all opinions have to be evaluated and thought about before acted upon!

  10. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser December 7, 2017 at 8:12 am #

    Pursuant to Yvonne Weers’ comment above…

    I used to paint, and entered contest faithfully until I realized that the judges had definite agendas that generally followed the paradigms (artistic and ‘activist’) set up by the schools at which they’d gotten their MFAs. Understandable, I suppose, but ultimately boring.

    I have no idea as to whether I’ve ever read an award-winning book; it simply didn’t register with me to check.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray December 7, 2017 at 12:37 pm #

      Your experience shows that it’s always a good idea to look at a contest’s requirements and past winners to get an idea if your work is a good fit.

  11. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser December 7, 2017 at 8:19 am #

    OK, some contests are fun…like a ‘worst line caused by typo’ contest whose winner I vividly remember:

    “As he turned, she waited with baited breath for the longed-for kiss.”

    Snacking on anchovies before a date…major fail.

    And there was a worst first line contest which (drum roll) I won, with something like this:

    “Bluey’s shark-fishing trip with his long-lost mate turned into tragedy because he didn’t realize that the call of ‘Throw the chum overboard!’ referred to bait.”

  12. Amanda Wen December 7, 2017 at 8:43 am #

    When I got serious about reading Christian fiction from a writer’s perspective (learning the market, finding out what works and what doesn’t), I made a beeline for Christy and Carol award-winning authors. But before that, an award didn’t make any difference to me at all.

    Having entered and won a few contests, I can definitely say they were worthwhile. I learned quite a bit from the critiques I received, and I’ve learned what was effective with my writing and what wasn’t. Plus, I found my wonderful and fabulous agent through one of those contests, so, yes, absolutely worth doing. πŸ™‚

  13. Carrie Stuart Parks December 7, 2017 at 9:58 am #

    What a great topic, Tamela! I’ve entered competitions from the start. The judges are not my family or friends (who would say my writing was wonderful.) The feedback from the judges in the unpublished helped me see what I was doing wrong and learn how to “fix” it. Now that I’m published, competitions keep me wanting to write a better book, a page-turning story that stayed in people’s minds.

    I’ve also judged many competitions, which helped me to hone my skills at helping others.

    And you can’t beat the heart-stopping, shoe dropping (!), over the moon feeling of winning. Shazam!

  14. Linda Riggs Mayfield December 7, 2017 at 10:26 am #

    Tamela, Awards motivate me to consider a book or author, but I don’t buy just because of them. Christy, Newberry, and Caldecott winners draw my attention.

    Your contest insights were new to me. I won student contests for poetry and short stories many years ago, but hadn’t considered submitting my “mature” prose–well, except the monthly cryptic photo response contest in Writer’s Digest. Does that count? ☺ Those are just FUN, prize or no prize. (I won no prizes). ‘Certainly will consider contests, now. Thanks!

  15. rochellino December 7, 2017 at 10:41 am #

    I do not buy books based on awards. I have however bought many books (1,000 plus volume library) based on the publisher which could be viewed as a de facto award (call it a peoples choice award). Rizzoli, Abrams, Taschen are just a few .

    So…… I can say that a publisher already has a book half way sold to me regardless of author, platform or awards within my genre based upon my past experience with their releases. Somewhat like a “Harlequin” effect. When a publisher holds an unofficial “award” like this it definitely trickles down to each author regardless of their status. Discerning authors may keep this in mind when seeking a publisher or self publishing under their own imprint.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray December 7, 2017 at 12:44 pm #

      Good point. The publisher says a lot about the author to the informed reader.

  16. CJ Myerly December 7, 2017 at 11:04 am #

    I’m more inclined to read a book with an award, but I also go by publishing houses.

    I entered contests for the first time in 2017. I learned so much. I received positive feedback that has pushed me forward and negative feedback that helped me hone my craft.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray December 7, 2017 at 12:45 pm #

      One nice thing about receiving negative feedback from a contest is that it’s run through a filter so it should be helpful, too.

  17. Joanne Reese December 7, 2017 at 11:28 am #

    I think your advice makes a lot of sense, Tamela. A writing contest could be a great opportunity to build thicker skin. The whole process looks to be an important step for people who seek the road of traditional publishing.

    I do wrestle a little with the idea of mixing art and competition. There is a part of me that values the individual and the message, it’s what makes a book worth reading. On the other hand, an award might be the very thing that has me pick the book up in the first place, so I’m not totally opposed to the idea. In fact, I’d even go as far as to say that I wouldn’t complain if somebody wanted to give me one.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray December 7, 2017 at 12:46 pm #

      Yes, winning is fun! But the act of submitting your book for publication alone puts you in a competition since agents and editors must make choices.

      • Joanne Reese December 11, 2017 at 1:15 pm #

        Good point, Tamela. I never thought of it that way.

  18. LK Simonds December 7, 2017 at 12:31 pm #

    Tamela, I’m VERY glad you think contest wins build a writer’s credibility. A few months ago, I started entering contests for that very purpose. I figured it was the best way to put the work on a level playing field with other writers, since most of the contests have blind judgings. I have one win so far, which was a nice validation. The story will be published in an anthology next year. So, there’s a publishing credit.

    As far as my own reading…award wins lifts an author’s credibility rise in my view, thought it isn’t usually the thing that makes me buy a book. I make a half-hearted effort to read the Pulitzer winners for fiction. I don’t spend much time with children’s books, but that gold Caldecott Medal stops me every time.

  19. Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D December 7, 2017 at 12:37 pm #

    Tamela, thanks for the information. I had not thought of entering contests. Actually, I do not pick a book to read by the awards it has won but by the topic that the book covers.

  20. Kristen Joy Wilks December 7, 2017 at 1:21 pm #

    As a reader, contests add one more positive as I consider a book. But it is reading that first page and seeing the author’s voice that is the kicker for me. As a writer, contests are so very helpful. Good and bad advice are received and one must learn to sort and decide what your story really needs for improvement. Also, it is such an encouragement to do well that this can keep a beleagured writer going on a little longer, or discourage her horribly, or give her the strength to press on even when the story seems impossible to repair. There is a lot of good in them!

  21. Peggy Booher December 8, 2017 at 8:40 pm #

    Tamela,

    As a reader. I generally go by the publishing house if the author is unfamiliar to me. Whether an author is a contest winner doesn’t usually add weight to my selection; the publishing house and whether I like the writing is what does it for me.

    As a writer, I recognize the value of contests as far as publicity and feedback goes. I entered The Writer’s short-story contest one year but never heard anything back. I may enter contests sometime in the future, but not until I grow more confident in the craft.

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