book competitions

Book Competitions Can Help Writers Gain Recognition

So, you've written your novel. Now what? Getting an agent and publishing deal the traditional way is harder than ever these days. Luckily, there's a solution for that.
May 23, 2021
6 mins read

After writing a novel, the path to publication and recognition can be a difficult one. With the rise of self-publishing through Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and other sites, finding readers and boosting visibility can be a real struggle for new writers. Submitting one’s polished manuscript or newly published work to a book competition can be an excellent way to gain recognition, boost sales or even find oneself in possession of a publishing deal.

Where Should I Start?

The first step in the process is to have a polished manuscript and to do a little research on relevant competitions. There are several lists of book competitions that exist online that previous winners and other writers have constructed. This research may prove tedious depending on the author’s location, genre, length of book and ability to pay the entrance fee; however, there are several ways to narrow one’s search to save time in the long run.

One writer, Holly Lyn Walrath, advises in her article on book competitions that “before you submit your work anywhere, sit back and think: What are my goals with this piece? What matters about writing to you? Why are you writing? What do you want to achieve? What’s your end-game scenario?” Because writing competitions exist — not only for novels, but also for short stories, poetry and many other forms of writing — knowing one’s goals can be a great way of narrowing the keywords used in the search bar. This will also allow the writer to quickly figure out which kinds of book competitions they want to submit to, and it should help sort the relevant from the irrelevant.

Another great tip for writers is to keep a folder, or preferably a spreadsheet, in order to keep track of the book competitions that appealed to them before they were ready to hit that submit button. The last thing any writer wants is to deal with an unorganized mess that might interfere in the publication process. In this spreadsheet, the writer should keep a link to the submission requirements, the deadlines, submission costs, possible prize, word count, genre requirements, ability to use unpublished work and any other information that might be required when it’s time to submit.

The writer should pay special attention to the competitions that have requirements relating to what format their book should be available in. Some competitions require that submitted work is already available for purchase in hardcover format. Other competitions — often called first book awards — require that submitted work is in manuscript format and that the writer has never before been published. Awareness of these details will ensure the author doesn’t miss out on any opportunities available before publication.

Another great tip for specifically self-published authors is to market their book before publication to build hype for the book and boost initial sales. Submitting to these book competitions at this stage is a great tool for authors in this situation. Some competitions even expect authors are doing this and offer book deals and even publishing contracts. Because submitting query letters is tiresome and the likelihood of finding an agent is low, these competitions provide an avenue for writers with a manuscript, and even first-time authors, to have a greater chance of traditional publication.

Alternatively, books that have already been self-published can receive a boost in sales and an expanded readership from winning book competitions. Often, book competitions will put a gold, silver or bronze badge on the cover of the book, which sets this book apart from other self-published works and signals to potential readers that this book is worth purchasing.

After creating a spreadsheet with this information, the writer will be able to easily keep track of the deadlines for each submission site and create a calendar for submission. Some competitions will even roll over some submissions from previous years if the author didn’t win a prize. These are rare, but the writer should also keep a list of the dates submitted and resubmitted to each of these sites. After this initial step is over, the rest is a simple matter of editing the spreadsheet as new competitions are discovered, keeping to the calendar and submitting the work on time.

How Do I Submit My Work?

This part varies depending on the type of competition. Many competitions are made available from MFA programs, writing programs, publishers and magazines, each having their own set of guidelines to follow. The commonality between them is that each book competition website should have a submissions page or sidebar. Submitting to a book competition feels like submitting to a job, internship or scholarship in that the pages are set up and followed similarly.

Every page will have a section that lists the requirements — items like who is eligible and what format the manuscript needs to be submitted in. Many competitions will also require an entrance fee. Most are around $20-$80, but some can be as high as $300. Most competitions nowadays use PayPal for their entrance fees. If the writer is not able to afford this entrance fee, there are also many competitions that are free to enter.

The requirements and guidelines page should also provide a deadline for submission, along with any other special rules for their book competition. Beyond this, submitting is just a matter of following the specific instructions. After the competition has been judged, the results are posted, and the winning writer will receive some communication to transfer the prize money and — if this is part of the specific competition — will begin the process of setting the book up for publication, professional editing or review. Writers will also be able to ask any specific questions about the next steps of the process at this time. Usually, the organization that is putting on the book competition will relay this specific information when communicating that the writer has won.

On one final note, the winning author should add the competitions they have won onto their professional website, post the news on social media and use any other means to spread the news in order to share the recognition of their work.

Beth Jordan, Aquinas College

Writer Profile

Beth Jordan

Aquinas College
English Literature

I’m an aspiring author who enjoys long walks and good coffee. I enjoy reading sci-fi/fantasy novels, and I’ve been working on a series of my own for a number of years now.

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