Book Contests

We have just received a series of notices of upcoming writing contests run by JM Northern Media LLC, a group based in Hollywood, California that was founded in 1999 to “produce annual events and report on the people who are making things happen in the world of digital media and beyond.”

Their contests include DIY Convention: Do it Yourself in Film, Music & Books; the New York Book Festival; the Aliens to Zombies Convention; the Young Professionals in Energy International Summit;, and more. Cities for their contests also include New Orleans, San Francisco, and London, among others. 2013 winners are posted on their site(s). There are a few negative comments on various sites, but JM Northern Media claims to be legitimate.

Considerations — For ANY Contest

Do your part up front.

Enter contests where you feel you have a good chance of winning and where entering and winning does not hurt your marketing budget, but rather is likely to pay off in publicity and book sales.

Is the contest worth entering?

When a book wins the Pulitzer Prize or National Book Award, or a children’s book wins the Newberry Medal, readers take notice. The book and the author receive considerable media attention. While other contests, such as those run by JM Northern Media might be questionable, having an award sticker on your book cover or a statement about your award on your website will probably help your book’s sales.

Even if you win a contest, it does you little good if it doesn’t help increase sales and media attention for your book, so be careful what contests you enter.

Following are some guidelines for determining whether a book contest is worth entering, just a waste of your money, or perhaps even a scam.

What is the prize?

Consider if you are going to have a significant outlay of your own money to get to an awards dinner. That can get expensive: travel expenses, lodging, trophies or certificates. If it’s a legitimate contest, your expenses should be covered.

Read the fine print. Will you be published. Or, if published, will you be represented by a publishing house, literary agency, publicist?  Who pays for what? In traditional publishing, the author does not pay for anything up front.

Who is conducting the contest?

Make sure the contest is being run by a reputable individual, company, or organization. Any legitimate contest will have a reputable website with a disclosure page listing contest rules, guidelines, and other information. Magazine or Craigslist ads are not indications of legitimate contests. While it’s true that anyone can build a webpage so that isn’t the ultimate proof, it does help because of the commitment of time and expense to build a site.

Judges and Judging

A legitimate book contest will have judges and a judging process in place.

Don Quixote.
Don Quixote

How long has the contest been around?

If the contest has been around a few years and has a published list of winners, it might be worth entering. Consider the entry criteria (including fees), take time to Google the organizers to see what turns up. View their list of judges, which should consist of writers, publishers, and recognizable publicists. Not “Judges may include” but actually listing the names of the judges, or telling you what group of people compile the judges.

Fees? Who Pays for What?

A contest with a reasonable fee is usually legitimate, particularly if there are cash and/or travel prizes connected.  Fees usually pay for advertising the contest, for prizes, and sometimes for small gratuities given to thank the judges for their time. Most importantly, the fee should ensure that a solid system is set up for reading/judging your work.

Beware of additional fees once you win the contest, such as receiving a discount on book coaching services.

Note how many copies of your book are needed. A legitimate contest will usually need more than one book because there are multiple judges who will need to read the book. See also if a statement is made about what happens to the books-do the judges keep them or donate them to a library?

Contest Deadlines and Rules? 

At least a month should pass between the deadline and the announcements so the judges have time actually to read the books.

Be sure you hold onto the rights of your work, unless, of course, it is a top notch contest that comes with publishing with a major house.