The Competition For Authors’ Dollars: ‘Writer Beware’

iStockphoto: papa42
iStockphoto: papa42

‘So Many Are A Waste Of Time’

Writers between the ages of 18 and 35 in the UK and Ireland have been rushing to get their work entered into the newly revived Sunday Times / Peters Fraser Dunlop Young Writer Of The Year Award.

download (1)Having been on hiatus since 2008, the rejuvenated competition has been welcomed, not least because it recognizes full-length work of literary merit from both traditionally published and self-published authors between the ages of 18 and 35.  Administered by the Society of Authors, the prize is £5,000 for the winner and £500 each for three runners-up.

The self- and traditionally published access to this competition answers one of the leading campaigns mounted by the international Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), which established its Opening Up To Indie Authors “campaign for a more inclusive book world” at in a London Book Fair launch two years ago. in access to retail channels, libraries, literary events, mainstream review consideration, and award competitions. Independent authors can find themselves shut out of such venues, which frequently have no mechanisms in place to allow indies to submit their work.

If you’re interested in the overall problem addressed by the campaign, there’s a book available from the two authors of the campaign, Debbie Young and Dan Holloway, Opening Up To Indie Authors.

Meanwhile, I’d like to call your attention to another problem associated with many writing competitions, and that is that they may not  be, first and foremost, created to recognize and reward good work.

Earlier this month, Victoria Strauss wrote up what she calls “awards profiteers.” Just as there are the “toadstool” author services, as I call them, cropping up to try to make money from aspirational writers, many prize schemes can be scams — money-making ventures guised as awards programs.

Strauss is the lead writer on WriterBeware, a watchdog column sponsored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America with support from the Mystery Writers of America, the Horror Writers Association, and the American Society of Journalists and Authors.

Strauss will be speaking at Writer’s Digest’s Annual Conference in New York in two sessions well worth your attention:

The conference runs from 31 July to 2 August in New York at the Roosevelt Hotel.

Writers speak with literary agents and editors at the Writer's Digest Annual Conference Pitch Slam of last year in New York. This year's Pitch Slam sessions are on 1 August, again at the Roosevelt Hotel. Image: Porter Anderson
Writers speak with literary agents and editors at the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference Pitch Slam of last year in New York. This year’s Pitch Slam sessions are on 1 August, again at the Roosevelt Hotel. Image: Porter Anderson

Red Flags For Contest Entrants

Victoria Strauss
Victoria Strauss

In Awards Profiteers: How Writers Can Recognize and Avoid Them, Strauss lists six “red flags” to help writers avoid making costly mistakes on the worst of the scams. She starts with the oldest question: did you go looking for them or did they come to you?

Here’s Strauss’ list of cautions, quoting her now:

  • Solicitation. To maximize entries, profiteering awards and contests solicit entries. An out-of-the-blue email urging you to enter a contest or awards program should always be treated with caution.

  • High entry fees. Profiteers charge $50, $60, $75, or even more. There may be “early bird specials” and multiple-entry discounts to tempt authors with the illusion of a bargain. [Notice that the Sunday Times / Peters Fraser Dunlop has no entry fee. Well-funded legitimate competitions normally cover their own costs rather than asking their author-entrants to pay. If a processing fee of some kind is charged, it should be nominal, not a barrier to entry.]

  • Dozens or scores of entry categories. To maximize income, profiteers create as many entry categories as possible, and encourage multiple entries.

  • Anonymous judging. Profiteers promise expert judging by people with standing in the publishing field, but don’t reveal who those experts are. In fact, the judging may be done by the profiteer’s staff, who may simply pick winners out of a hat.

  • Non-prize prizes. To avoid cutting into their profits, profiteers offer prizes that cost them little or nothing: press releases, media announcements, database and website listings, features on satellite Web sites or in self-owned publications. Some offer little more than the supposed honor of winning the award.

  • Opportunities to spend more money. Profiteers’ profits don’t just come from entry fees. They also hawk stickers, certificates, critiques, and more.

Unless a competition is of the stature that a seal on your book cover means something to a reader — National Book Award, for example, or the Newberry for children’s books — think carefully about the time, trouble, and expense you might incur in entering.

Strauss includes a list of “contest profiteers” in this story and follows up in a separate article with a look at some contests’ promise of “exposure” as the benefit of entry.

As she puts it in the first story:

Why not spend your energy on something that can get you closer to building a readership — submitting for publication, or publishing on your own? TC mark

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