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Should you enter a writing contest?

Alessandra Torre, NYT Bestselling author and Inkers Con co-founder

What does it mean to be an “award-winning” author?

It depends. Similar to the “bestselling author” moniker, readers have grown unimpressed by this title, unless it comes from a highly reputable (and recognizable) source.

Authors are often frantic for some feedback on their books, and while some contests send back opinion letters of every entry, most do not. Research each competition that you enter carefully, especially if they are charging an entry fee. If you do win a smaller competition – rejoice! But don’t expect massive book sales or print deals as a result.

Often the exposure of smaller competitions is limited, and a win doesn’t necessarily translate into sales. There are a lot of fly-by-night book awards out there that will happily take your entry fee – so be careful where and how you spend your hard-earned money.

If you’re contemplating entering your book in a competition, here are some tips to help you navigate the process.

Make sure it’s a reputable and respected award. There aren’t a lot of these and they are much harder to win–but if you do, it’s an award that could gain you interest from publishers (foreign and domestic), publicity, book sales, and prizes.

Before you enter a contest, take the time to research the organization behind it and read up on past winners and finalists. Look for contests that are established and well-regarded in the writing and reading community.

Be aware that many of the awards (Nobel, Women’s Prize for Fiction, Booker Prize, Pulitzer) are not available for self-published books. As a self-published author myself – I know! I feel your frustration. But there are other great awards you can apply for. BookBub compiled a great list here.

Here’s a quick list of some top awards by genre:

  • Romance: Vivian
  • Fantasy/Science Fiction: The Hugo Award, The Nebula Awards
  • LGBTQ: Lambda Literary Awards
  • Horror: Bram Stoker Award
  • Mystery: The Edgar Awards, The Daggers
  • Young Adult: Michael L. Printz, The Morris Award
  • Children: Newbery Medal
  • Christian: The Christy Awards
  • Not genre-specific, but still highly respected: IndieReader Discovery Awards and the Writers Digest Awards

Of course, the more distinguished the award, the more competition you will face–but that’s okay! You should pat yourself on the back just for having the confidence (and the book!) to enter.

Check that your book will qualify. Every award will have submission requirements, and it’s important for you to review those carefully to make sure that your book qualifies for the award. Some potential requirements include:

  • genre or sub-genre
  • publication date
  • author experience level
  • traditionally or self-published book
  • length of work

Review the submission process carefully. This is a bit of a no-brainer, but make sure that your book is formatted in the manner requested, that you submit your application on time, and that you provide everything that is required. Failing to follow the guidelines can lead to your submission being automatically disqualified.

Get feedback on your manuscript before entering. You will only have one opportunity to enter, so make sure that your book is as polished and developed as possible. Whether it’s through paid editors or free beta readers, getting outside feedback on your manuscript first can help you identify areas that need improvement and increase your chances of success.

Watch your dollars. The entry fees on these contests can add up quickly. Before you throw a lot of money away, ask yourself if this is the best use of these funds. Some contests give feedback for every entry (that’s awesome!), but others do not. Make sure you understand what you are getting in each circumstance.

Be patient and kind to your book. Unfortunately, not every submission will be accepted, and it is important to be prepared for rejection. If you win – celebrate in high fashion! But don’t be too hard on yourself or your book. Judges are influenced by their personal preference and if they don’t immediately see the brilliance of your book, that doesn’t mean that thousands (or millions) of readers won’t fall in love with it.

Hopefully this information helps you to navigate the idea or process of entering a book competition. Even if you don’t every enter (or win) a contest, if you’ve made it to THE END of your novel, you’re a huge winner in my book. Give yourself a pat on the back, crack open your favorite drink, relax back and bask in the awesomeness that is you.

Happy winning!


P.S. The upcoming 2024 conference offers dozens of brand new classes, Q&As, author discussions and more! Join us in Dallas or online!