Fee-Based Contests are NOT Writing Scams

Cat Burgler Designs Writing Contest ScamIs having to pay a fee to be a part of a writing contest a scam? The answer is not what you think. The reality is that you need to consider the purpose of the contest and the purpose for entering the contest.


Are Fee-Based Writing Contests Scams?

That’s the wrong question.

Both Beth and I have paid to have our work entered in contests. We paid $75 each to have our books judged in The Hollywood Book Festival. Was it a “scam”? Depends on your definition of what a contest scam is. Was their interest more in making money than in helping authors? Probably.

Bruce, the guy who runs The Hollywood Book Festival, is also the same guy who runs The San Francisco Book Festival, The Paris Book Festival, and others, all of the award ceremonies based in L.A.

Both Beth and I won honorable mention in the Genre Based Fiction category. Based off of the huge quantity of winners, at first we thought everyone who entered won. But later we learned that only a percentage of the entrants actually won (a friend of ours entered and didn’t win). To check on the integrity of the win, I asked Bruce a lot of pointed questions. He was always upfront and didn’t sugar coat anything. Yes, books that right away didn’t look great were set aside and were never read, whereas the ones which showed promise were read further, maybe just enough to know the quality of the writing instead of reading every book. The contest was quite a money-maker for Bruce.

So was it a scam?

Again. That’s the wrong question.

There are a lot of great blog posts on how to identify suspicious contests and where to find good ones. (Check out http://www.writing-world.com/rights/contests.shtml.) Instead I’m going to give you what I believe is more important information. Every contest has different goals in mind. So the real question is, “Which contest is right for you?”


How to Decide Which Contest to Enter

Some contests are for raising money for writers’ associations or clubs. Some contests that don’t have a fee are for generating content to sell online, making money from other people’s writing. Some are for promoting businesses such as book coaching or editing. And some are even for finding the next great authors by evaluating their literary merit.

You can decide which contest to enter based off of what the true purpose behind holding the contest is. But actually, the contest’s true purpose — be it to raise money, promote business, or help authors — doesn’t matter. What matters is your purpose for entering the contest.

After Beth and I won honorable mention at The Hollywood Book Festival, we were invited to pay for logos, winning stickers, and all sorts of crap if we wanted to show off our win. Yes. This was clearly a money-making business.

But it didn’t matter.

Why? Because I was not looking to have a few judges read The Torah Codes and say they liked it more than all the others they read. I was not looking to be better than other authors. That was not my purpose. I was looking to be able to say to people I met “My book is an award-winning thriller.” That line has sold me so many copies of my book, it’s paid back the contest submission fee in spades.

Of course, there’s the risk you take of not knowing if your book’s any good, getting a faux award, and then promoting it as an award-winning book only to get one-star reviews from disgruntled buyers. Fortunately, that didn’t happen to me. I had enough people edit my book to know their priceless feedback made The Torah Codes great.

Here’s another example of how a money-making contest helped us. Both Beth and I paid $50 each to enter the California Fiction Book Contest. My book didn’t win anything, Beth’s Young Adult Fantasy Henrietta the Dragon Slayer won grand prize! Since she won, we redesigned her book cover to have a gold leaf seal promoting her book as a grand prize winner and her sales have been better ever since. Was there something shady about the contest? Probably. Beth got a free coaching call, so the contest was more about promoting the blog and business than helping authors, it seemed. But it didn’t matter. Readers are finally noticing how great Beth’s writing is because the golden seal on the cover gets them to buy the book.Henrietta the Dragon Slayer - Grand Prize Winner!

I could instead find writing contests devoted only to evaluating my writing. But if I won grand prize solely based off of its literary merit in the Barstow Doctors Group Talent Contest, who’s going to care?



The Right Contest Depends on What You Want

If you want to be judged solely on your literary merit, find a contest that is known for reading every entry and has a system for judging the quality of the book (character rating, plot rating, description rating, ingenuity rating, etc.). These contests may be small, local ones.

If you want credibility among other authors, find a contest that has a distinguished reputation in writing circles all across the nation.

If you want to add perceived value, find a contest with a great name (like The Hollywood Book Festival), one that has a lot of opportunity to win.

If you want to be published in an anthology of great work, find a contest/anthology submissions request that is known to carefully choose the cream of the crop and whose anthologies are popular. This is also a great way for new readers to discover you.

The right contest depends on what you want. So what do you want?


Book marketing mentor, Ezra Barany is the author of the award-winning bestseller, The Torah Codes. Contact Ezra now to begin the conversation on how he can help you. You can connect with Ezra via FacebookTwitter, contact him through this blog, or by email: EZRA at THETORAHCODES dot COM.

You may also like...

3 Responses

  1. Carol Anne Malone says:

    Great. I’ve been torn deciding which contest sponsored by differing RWA groups would take mine as it’s not strictly romance based. I just have to dig deeper for the right contest for me.

  2. thebigal says:

    So the Paris Book Festival isn’t a festival at all, and is located in Los Angeles? Surely that’s false advertising, at least, and possibly fraud? Sounds like one guy picks a book and has a private ceremony to recognize it – that’s no festival.

  3. Huxley says:

    “Perceived value”. LOL. You paid almost a hundred dollars to have your name drawn out of a hat. Like, “No Hormones Added” on chicken packages. Or air in the bottom of packages. Nice. So yes, if you’re looking to sell prose to those who cannot even read labels, and are instead distracted by shiny stickers, inflating value through illiterate means is the way to go. It’s not a scam, but it’s much like fraction-reserve banking, like a Ponzi scheme. The consumers are idiots greater than the schemer. Seriously, anyone who needs and seeks perceived value will never have enough dignity to make it as a literary author.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.