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Book contests are often to unpublished authors what casinos are to people with gambling problems. They can be a whole lot of fun (and they can pay off big time), but there are also serious risks you need to know about.

The upside of book contests is easy to imagine (that’s how authors get sucked into book contests in the first place). The prizes often include cash awards, agent representation, and even publishing contracts.

But there’s also
a dark downside.

This article on our
Literary Agent Blog explains.

* * *

Book Contests and Book Writing Contests

If you’ve been around a while as a writer, you know that there are a lot of book contests and book writing contests online and in writers’ magazines. What you probably don’t know is that a lot of the prizes these contests promise come with “strings.”

In short, the best writing contests (in my opinion) simply award cash prizes and the honor of winning. That way you can leverage the award to help you get the attention of literary agents and publishers.

Unfortunately, however, the entry forms for many writing contests come with important details often hidden in fine print. If you win you might be required to work with a certain literary agent (that might, or might not, be the best agent for you). Or you might be required to accept a book deal with a publisher that has horrible contract terms (advance, royalties, etc.). By simply entering these book contests, you are committing to accepting the terms of the contract “as-is” if you are selected as a winner.

If you’re an author struggling to get published, you might be happy just to get any literary agent or book deal. But my job is to help you think bigger and never settle. So think about this. You could literally lose tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or more, by having a bad publishing deal, over the lifetime of your book.

So make sure you read the fine print and see what you’re committing yourself and your book to before you submit your work to any book contests.

* * *

Which Book Contests Are Best?

Here’s the other thing
you need to know…

Many, if not most, book contests exist primarily as a means for the organizers to make a lot of money. So be smart and only enter the best writing contests, run by organizers with good intentions. Otherwise you could waste a lot of time and money, and actually damage your reputation as an author. Here are a few pointers to help you identify quality book contests.

Reputable Book Contests

If the book contests you’re thinking about entering are run, or sponsored by, well-known, reputable organizations, that’s a good sign. For example: Writers’ Digest or Amazon. Both of the aforementioned entities sponsor book contests. Unfortunately, vanity publishers host book contests as well. Their main goal is to get you into their “sales funnel” so they can get you to attend their conferences and events and pay for other services that probably aren’t going to do you much (or any) good in your quest to get a legitimate literary agent and publisher. If you brag about winning book contests like this to literary agents and publishers, you’re going to look like an amateur.

Established Book Contests

Another important thing to look for is how long a contest has been around. Don’t enter book contests that are brand new or not well known. There’s a good chance that the award you win won’t mean much (or anything) to literary agents and publishers. There’s also a good chance that the book contest won’t be around the following year. Book contests come and go, a lot.

Book Contests that Charge Reasonable Fees

As you start researching book contests more, you’ll see that there’s a big range in the investment required to enter. Some of them are free, like Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award. Others cost close to a hundred dollars to enter. I understand the organizer’s perspective of not wanting to run a contest and have it cost them money. But they also shouldn’t be charging so much that it’s a big moneymaker for them. At least that’s how I see it.

* * *

What’s Your Experience with Book Contests?

Have you entered any book contests?

How did it go?

Share your experience with me,
and everyone else reading this blog.

See the comments
area below…

And, if you haven’t already done so, click here now
to read my article about Bad Literary Agents.

Writing takes too much time…for you to waste your time
on bad literary agents or book contests
that aren’t worthwhile or legit.

Here’s to being smart and always
doing things the right way,

–  Mark

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