When a Writing Contest Has a Hidden Agenda

If you’ve been reading this blog for long, you may have guessed that I’m not a big fan of writing contests.

Partly this is because so many contests are a waste of time, with minimal prizes, negligible prestige, and zero cachet on your writing resume. Why not spend your energy on something that can get you closer to building a readership–submitting for publication, or publishing on your own if that’s what you want to do?

There’s also the risk of bad stuff in the entry guidelines–such as the MeeGenius Golden Owl Contest, where simply submitting constitutes agreement to publish and acceptance of a publishing contract that claims rights in perpetuity. Writers who don’t read the fine print carefully enough may find themselves trapped by such provisions.

And then there are the contests with a hidden agenda: making money for the sponsor.

Published Book Contest Moneymakers

There are any number of moneymaking contests that focus on published books. Their M.O.: a huge entry fee, dozens or scores or even hundreds of entry categories, and the sale of additional merchandise to winners and honorees. Prizes are typically things that cost the sponsors little or nothing (website features, electronic press releases, vague promises of publicity campaigns). Judges are never named–and may not exist–and, although commercially published books are sometimes declared winners, the contests are marketed mainly to small press and self-published authors.

For instance, the USA Best Book Awards and the International Book Awards, both sponsored by JPX Media. Each contest has a $69 entry fee, over 150 categories, a prize that basically consists of a feature on one of JPX Media’s websites, and the “opportunity” to purchase award stickers and certificates. If just 500 people enter each contest (and I’m guessing that’s an extremely conservative estimate), JPX grosses $69,000–and that doesn’t even include the extra income from sticker and certificate sales.

Other published book contest moneymakers include Readers Favorite ($89, over 70 categories, plenty of adjunct merchandise and services for sale) and the Pinnacle Book Achievement Awards ($90, over 40 categories; the current entry deadline is March 16, with winners announced in “late March,” which wouldn’t seem to allow much time for judging).

(A side effect of such faux contests: the opportunity they afford vanity and otherwise dubious publishers to present a gloss of legitimacy or to make an extra buck.)

Unpublished Manuscript Contest Moneymakers 

Another kind of contest with a hidden moneymaking agenda is conducted by fee-charging publishers. These contests focus on unpublished authors, and since entry fees are small or nonexistent, and prizes often involve a promise of fee-free publication, they can seem very attractive. Beware, though: the contest may be mostly, or partly, a way for the publisher to gather a pool of potential paying customers.

For instance, the Deep River Books Writer’s Contest, the 2011-2012 results of which were just announced. Deep River Books (formerly VMI Publishing) is a “partner publisher” that requires authors to buy a minimum of 1,000 books. This year’s winners received non-fee contracts; other entrants were recognized for various degrees of merit. They were also solicited for publication.

I wanted to be the first to Congratulate you! Your manuscript received “Honorable Mention” in the 2011-12 Deep River Books Writer’s Contest. And while you did not win first place, “Honorable Mention” is a significant achievement when you consider there were over 400 contest entries. You are to be applauded for what you have accomplished.

As you know, Deep River Books is a full-service partner publisher. Our goal is to publish the best manuscripts from new authors, and we certainly feel yours could fit into that category. Due to the high score your manuscript achieved by our judges, I would like to send your manuscript through our regular editorial review process for possible publishing by Deep River Books.

If your book were to be selected by our editorial review board, we would make it a “Feature Title” which includes media coverage and an invitation to be a featured author signing books at our booth during next year’s International Christian Retail Show where over 10,000 people, including many bookstore owners/buyers attend. It would also be a featured title at the Deep River Books website.

And because of the “Honorable Mention” status in the contest, we plan to offer you a $500 discount off our standard partnership program as an added incentive, if your book is selected by our in-house editorial team for publication.

This letter (which concludes by assuring the recipient that their manuscript was “a joy to read”) sounds personalized, but it’s not. Other contest entrants received identical solicitations. I can’t help thinking of the “free contests” conducted by vanity anthology companies, where just about everyone who enters is declared a semi-finalist and offered publication, along with the chance to buy the anthology in which their work appears.

So even if a fee-charging publisher’s contest sounds attractive, be aware that it may have a hidden agenda, and that entering may make you a target for a sales pitch.


  1. Can I ask how your "red balloon" differs from mine, a Silver Medal sticker from the Reader's Favorite? No, I didn't buy the stickers and I believe I paid only to expedite the review.

  2. The Pinnacle Book Awards are done seasonally. So those submitted in March are not judged by late March, but months later. Those judged in late March were submitted months earlier.

  3. I'm in the UK and I have won or been placed in quite a few reputable short story competitions – for example Neil Gunn, Fish, Mslexia Yes, there were prizes -some quite good in monetary terms – one was worth £1100 (for a £3 entry fee). BUT the big advantage to me was having something recognised and useful to put on my writing CV – and I'm sure that being a finalist in one particular novel competition was a contributory factor in a mainstream publisher taking me on with my debut novel. An additional factor in the short story competitions is the discipline it forces upon me to write a new piece and really work at honing it. I don't enter competitions with high entry fees, but I do try to enter 1 or 2 every year – for the reasons I've given above.

    Choose carefully, go for widely recognised competitions and it will never be lost effort, even if you don't win.

  4. I too, won an honorable mention once, got my poem published in their anthology, won't mention which one it is, but I remember being a bit ambivalent. On 1 hand, I thought, one of my poems is actually published, but then no one is going to buy this big, expensive, book of poems.

  5. Alan and Kayla,

    I've heard nothing bad or negative about the Writer's Digest contests. They charge $99-$115 for their self-published book contest, but other contest categories, such as poems and stories, charge much less. Also, there are real prizes and perks. IMO what benefit a win would provide is an open question; I do also think there's a profiteering angle, because WD conducts a pretty large number of different contests–which I'm sure, because of the magazine's high profile, get huge numbers of entries–and winners are published in a special booklet that entrants are encouraged to pre-purchase. I am sure these contests make a substantial amount of money for the magazine, even though it's clear that, unlike the true profiteers, they give quite a bit of it back.

  6. What about Writer's Digest? I've seen them mentioned only once here, without an opinion. They are currently charging $79, but you would expect them to be authentic – or no?

  7. With regards to Readers' Favorite, I have used their services and received some nice reviews and didn't pay a penny. My personal experience is that they didn't scam me.

  8. On Jan 17 I said that indie writers need an organization of our own, with our own contests, etc. Victoria responded that this exists – the 'Alliance of Independent Authors', or ALLi – I checked out their website, and it is very interesting, but I see that they have a fee for joining. There are other blogs out there warning against paying a fee to join a writer's group.

    I haven't made up my mind yet. Whenever a fee is involved, I always say to myself, "wouldn't it be better to put the money into ads?" – the answer has always been yes.

    But a few here have suggested a list of legitimate writing contests. I too would like to see one.

  9. Evidently, Victoria Strauss did not read the contest rules at the Deep River Books site. First, it is not a hidden agenda as the rules clearly state that the purpose of the contest, in addition to selecting a true winner, is to find new well written manuscripts. The contest is free and the intent is clear and it is even state in the rules that no one is under any obligation to publish their book with DRB.

    So we fail to see how this is a "Hidden Agenda" and is in any way some kind of ethical violation or an attempt to put one over on an unsuspecting author.
    Bill Carmichael, CEO and Publisher of Deep River Books

  10. Alan Conrad,

    There _is_ an organization for self-published authors! It's called the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) and it offers a lot of great resources. Check it out.

  11. You know, what self-publishing writers need is an organization(s)of their own with their own contests and awards. There are so many of us, with so many books, that if this was done seriously some very good books would emerge with legit awards.

    Sorry, I'm too busy writing to do it.

  12. A lot of established contests like Writer's Digest have large entry fees. It's not a scam but I wouldn't say it's worth it.

  13. Hello, and thanks for the information. I believe there is value in writing contests, but of course do read the rules and use good judgment. With indie authors, especially, adding a contest award to your book cover and promotion can help. As for Readers' Favorite reviews and awards, I entered a novel for the free review, which took about 2 months, but was a 5-star review that was excellent. It was clear that the reviewer had carefully read and understood the novel. That also means I'm entered in the contest, also without paying any fees. No complaints here!

  14. Thanks for your wide-ranging, informative critique of writing contests. Yes, very true that they are a good way for publishers to make money, whether they are book or magazine publishers, and a generally low odds experience for the writer. You're very right about those contests that are obviously a huge scam and money maker for the publisher, if there even is a publisher. The really bad contests are really obvious, though not to beginning writers with big dreams.

    One is, in most cases, simply overwhelmed by the number of entries. Follow the money and that's the answer as to why these contests occur. The bright side is that there are many contests that don't cost much, are important and mean a lot in terms of publicity and reputation for the winners. In all my years as an author I've only entered a few contests, such as Crazy Horse; one at least ends up with a copy of this interesting journal. And I entered the fiction contest of Zoetrope — this is an interesting lit magazine which happens to have a Francis Ford Coppola connection and means that if you are one of the lucky ones in a large field of entrants you get looked at by some publishers and film companies.

    I suppose it's also very altruistic in that if one enters the contest of a really good magazine or journal, one is supporting its endeavors and publications and that's a good thing.

    Well, all in all, if one is a really good or great writer, these contests have some good things, but overall it's not a good use of one's money. On the dark side, it's like buying lottery tickets, and one can use that money for better choices, like travel or movies or a good meal. Richard Marranca, author of the recent collection, The New Romantics: Ten Stories of Mystery, Passion, Travel and Vampires…

  15. While I agree there are some writing contests that may not be legitimate, I had great success with my novel, Echo from Mount Royal, in the 2016 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. I won first prize for General Fiction/Novel ($100 prize) and Second Grand Prize award for Fiction ($750). The judges of the awards are professionals in the independent book field. All winning books are recognized and included in a free handout at the registration desk at the Book Expo America (BEA) held this week and attended by thousands in the book industry. So my recommendation is to not turn up your nose at some of these contests.

  16. I was actually very interested in this post until I saw the assumptions and dissing of Readers' Favorite, of which I am a Professional Reviewer. Obviously the writers of these comments have received less than five stars for their books and are a little disgruntled, but if we give five stars to every book, regardless that it is filled with spelling errors, grammatical errors and continuity, the five star review (which is offered FREE to authors of quality writing) is given without question, along with the reason for giving it the high review. When authors request an Express Review, the top reviewers are offered these books, regardless of their length or content, and are paid at a much higher rate for those particular books. The reviewers of RF are top authors with excellence in spelling, grammar and the flow of continuity. If the book is able to engage them, then the chances that it will engage other readers is good. If the mistakes are so many that the reader cannot enjoy the book, it is rated lower and constructive criticism is given to the author, so that they might try again at a later date after the book is proof-read and copy-edited. Please do not spit on things which are legitimate simply because you possibly failed to make the grade.

  17. Victoria, could you kindly point self-publishing authors to any book contests that you DO consider legitimate? Since they're few and far between, there should not be too many to list, I presume.

  18. I submitted two of my books to Readers' Favorite for review, both as free entries. One was selected by one of their volunteers, read, and reviewed quite nicely. The other never was selected. If you look at the page where reviewers can sign up, they do compensate their reviewers for express reviews (which is where I assume part of the express review fee goes, although I cannot comment for their contest as I have never entered). They do not compensate for free reviews.

    For the second book that did not receive a review, when they shut down the free review submissions for a couple months for their contest, I did get an email saying that it wasn't selected and with a list of possible reasons (cover art that isn't great, a book blurb that doesn't entice, a category that isn't popular, etc). I admit the cover art on the first submission (which they reviewed) was amazing, where on the second it was just done on the amazon cover creator (not so amazing).

    I would not pay to enter a contest or get reviews, but submitting it for free and possibly getting it reviewed is worth it, IMO. Paying is just dodgy.

  19. I have entered three writing contests. One was for an unpublished manuscript and didn't incur any fee, and I was shortlisted (one of three). In the other two I was a finalist in one and came third in the other. By the time you get contests down to this level it is often a matter of judges' tastes (or, in the case of the unpublished manuscript competition, the type of book the publisher concerned is looking for) as to which one wins. So, though entering these contests has done nothing for me in terms of sales or recognition (and I didn't expect it to) it's either a case of there's not a lot wrong with my writing or I've entered three contests that had useless judges.

  20. There are good contests out there. I would agree stay away from the ones charging anything over $10.
    I was a moderator of an on-line community our (no charge) contests resulted in a number of people being published for the first time in respected magazines.

  21. Thank you all. You saved me $89 bucks today (if not more). Contest popped up on Bookbaby yesterday, and I was tempted for a moment before looking for exactly this caution. I should have known better, and now I do.

  22. M.H. Healey–

    There aren't many contests that are prestigious enough to make a difference in sales or exposure. That said, have a look at Writer Beware's Contests page–there's general info there, along with links to resources where you can find contest listings.

  23. I am a newly published first time author with a book out in July by a smaller indoe press. As I am already published, I'm just looking for a contest to help spread the word. Any competitions that don't require fees, stickers, a contract, or even prize money (only praise from a reputable source??)-

  24. bw–

    Like many other prestigious book awards, the National Book Award charges a hefty fee (it also requires publishers whose books are selected as finalists to contribute a four-figure amount to a promotional campaign). However, unlike the awards I describe in my post–which exist solely to make money for the organizers, and are almost exclusively targeted to individual authors–these major awards are run by nonprofit organizations, and submissions are made by publishers–which also pay the fees.

    Many publishers choose not to, or can't afford to, enter books in major awards programs because of expenses, even though a finalist placement or a win can give a major boost to sales and prestige to the publisher. But whatever you think of programs like the NBAs, they aren't comparable to obscure, profitmaking contests and awards that basically exist to feed off of authors' hunger for exposure.

  25. The National Book Award has an entry fee.
    Could someone comment on that fee and the award in general?

  26. I submitted my book FOR FREE to readers' favorite and received a very positive, 5-star review having paid no money whatsoever.

    Can't see anything to complain of there.

    (And yes I know that they also offer paid services, but shock horror – "People Attempt to Make Money" is not a headline that's going to sell any newpapers.)

  27. I must say thank you to all of those who have opened my eyes, even more than they were before reading through this blog.

  28. It's really annoying how many sharks are out there preying on writers, many of whom are desperate. I just recently submitted my Kindle children's book for a free review at Readers' Favorite. The disclaimer was that there was no guarantee that I would receive a review.

    So, when I learned that my book was reviewed and received a good rating, I was overjoyed. Then I got my head out of the clouds and re-read the "review." It turns out that all I got was a summary and one positive line about the book.

    Disturbed by this, I started looking at other reviews on the site, but they appear legitimate. Jim Carey has a book on the site, for crying out loud. I'm not sure what to make of this, but after reading this thread, I fully expect to start getting snail spam from this site.

  29. I agree with the comment that awards dose not sell books, the best way to make your self known is to keep writing books. Try and get on as many cable shows as possible, they're free. Paying a fee for a review in an online magazine is not worth the cost.

  30. When I first published my book, I was told to never pay to enter any contest. Thus, I have entered two contests without paying entry fees. One was ABNA, the other Readers' Favorite. I got through round 1 with Amazons Breakthrough Novel Awards, but was soon disqualified due to leaving my name inside my MS. As per RF, my book was submitted for a Free Review, and I've never been asked to spend more money. Once award winners were announced, I did NOT have to buy seals to apply to my print copy or for my online book. Those are provided free to winners. I don't believe the two mentioned above actually ask for additional fees, however so many people jump at advertised services and spend money. And FYI…the two above mentioned contests provide a list of reviewers. The ongoing debate is whether or not Awards sell books. I do not believe they do, and if you spend money on entering awards, you'll likely never recoup your expenses in book sales. BEWARE of any awards that require an entry fee!

  31. To the previous poster, who doesn't know whether to be proud or embarrassed – I'd say be proud, in a limited way. 🙂
    It's great that your book placed in the contest, and that does place you above the rest of the crowd in a lot of ways.
    But your best bet for getting attention, for yourself and your books, is to write more excellent books and just keep on getting them out there.
    I agree with you; I haven't seen many cheap writing contests, certainly not for $10 or less. But a better bet in future might be joining a writer's association and participating in their contests, as others have suggested.
    Congrats on your awards!

  32. I am an author trying to think of a way to give my writing more credibility. I am an unknown indie author who thought the title of award-winner might be the impetus needed for potential readers to give my writing a chance. I did some research and choose three contests I qualified for and that sounded legitimate. The New York Book Festival, Readers' Choice, and Writer's Digest. Now I'm reading that they are not legitimate? Of all the contests I researched, none of the fees were $10 or less. They were between $50 and $75. These fees did not seem unreasonable to me. My novels are between 450 and 550 pages and may take several days to read. I can't imagine these judges reading for months on end and not being compensated. I entered both my novels in all three contests with the hopes of placing in one. At this time, two of the contests are still being judged, but I was pleasantly surprised when both of my novels placed in the New York Book Festival competition. I immediately made my way to my Amazon page and proudly listed my Runner-up and Honorable Mention status. But after reading this blog, I don't know whether to be proud or embarrassed.

  33. I just want to say that I added a comment a couple days back that has not been approved yet on Readers Favorite where it looked to me that judging was dependent on getting one of their separate book reviews, and if you didn't get one in time to be judged, you wouldn't get your book properly rated and judged. Today I got a contest email update from them where they specifically said this, "If you do not already have a Readers' Favorite review for the book you entered then you will receive a review for it as part of your Contest Entry. This is free perk and separate from our contest."

    So, based on that, I have to say my assumption was inaccurate, and that is a plus for readers favorite I want to add, so this post follows my first post, whenever the moderator comes to look at blog comments. Still staying anonymous so no extra 'perks' come my way to influence my contest entry results. Hope this is also published same time my 1st comment is to be fair to Readers Favorite, especially since both of these I posted before they were published and the blog moderator can see that I am the same 'anonymous' person and not a shill from readers favorite pretending to follow up with a positive 'update' to my first comment, which is yet unpublished now.

  34. I entered this contest last month, mailed in my book, did not send an ebook. Then I learned after getting officially entered, that I was 'waiting for a reviewer to pick my book for a free review'.

    Well at this time it is May 30, and my book is not yet 'picked up' for a free review, yet I can plunk down more money than the $89 entry fee if I just can't wait, and get a rush review. The interesting thing is there is only one month left before 'finalists are announced".

    Here is the problem on that: on the contest page it claims all book entries "are given a rating score based on key literary elements." Well, if in 1 month my book has yet to be reviewed for free, and only one month remains for finalists to be announced, and it takes 2 weeks for a 'rush' review to be done, then how in the world is my book entry going to be fairly given a rating score based on key literary elements if it has never been read?

    So it was a surprise to me after paying $89 that my book entry would only be read in time if I buckle down and pay a 'rush fee', but I only have until the first 7 days of June to do so, in order to give that reviewer the 2 weeks turnaround time.

    If I don't pay for this rush fee, then I was in effect, tricked because for that entry free given near the end of the contest, my book will not be read by anyone for free in time, and so no way will it get any kind of rating on key literary elements as the contest claim each of the thousands of entries will get.

    Maybe those in the first few months will get that rating, but it is highly unethical to entice unsuspecting entrants in the last couple of months whom if they don't have the budget to cave to a 'rush review fee' in addition to the hefty entry fee, will get nothing for that entry, as it seems for certain that key literary elements rating can only come if someone there reads the book. No reviewer, no rating, and a new sucker is born.

    I purposefully am posting anonymously so that if Readers Favorite is following this thread, they can't identify my book from my name and then by a 'miracle' my entry in a limbo to be reviewed, is suddenly and timely reviewed.

    It had been hidden from me, as far as no where stated on the contest page, that the judging process involved needing one of their book reviews from their author services by one of their volunteer readers, and if none were interested right off or in a timely enough fashion to review your entry for free, well, it just sits unreviewed. That is deceptive practice. Surely, such a thing as this should be stated on the contest entry page so that those too poor to afford more than the entry fee, can decide if they want to gamble $89 and see if their book gets a free review in time or not and given that essential rating of key literary elements necessary to be judged fairly.

  35. Thanks so much for this. I was trying to find out how Readers' Favorite award is judged. There was no way I could find this information on their site and I suspected the judging was done by whoever could get the most votes for their book. I'm not into this sort of thing. If the judging isn't done by proper judges (particularly when the fee is fairly hefty) I don't want to know.

  36. Thank you so much for this interesting post. I've made up my mind not to enter the competitions I was looking into.

  37. Anonymous–

    The Green Book Festival is one of the published book contest moneymakers. It has all the hallmarks: a high entry fee, scads of categories, judges who aren't named, and no name recognition (unless, as many people have, you've been spammed by it). Its owner, JM Northern Media, runs 19 other contests, all with the same M.O. Somewhat unusually, there's a tangible prize–$500 and a plane ticket (you're responsible for all other expenses). But considering the number of entries these contests collectively rack up, that's likely a drop in the bucket, expensewise.

  38. Can you please advise me about this book competition?
    I've self-published a book with a strong environmental message so it would fit one of their categories.
    The competition grand prize for the 2014 Green Book Festival winner is a $500 appearance fee and a flight to San Francisco for our gala awards ceremony in May, 2014 OR an equivalent amount donated in your name to the environmental charity of your choice.

  39. I entered the Moonbean Children's Boook centest and I am sorry I paid 100.00 for it. Firstly, they claim to have read and judged 3,650 + I am not sure how many email books in a very short time – about two months. They had no winner list by category and no judges listed. If you have 41 categories, you should have a winner list for each category. You are right, this is just a money-making scheme with no true interest in promoting good books.
    Elena Marcus

  40. This is an interesting post on many levels. I came to it trying to make sense of the massive website, Readers' Favorites. Had a feeling it was something that should be passed by. Now, I'm certain.

    I would like to say a word or two about contests.

    In my genre, mystery thriller, there are half a dozen or so important contests that are run professionally and have relatively small entry fees, around $25. The payout for these is prestige, pure and simple. I can't swear to how many books are bought because they're award winners, but, from what some of my readers have told me, they are at least eye-catching. I've been a finalist in two of these contests and just being able to put that at the top of my Amazon page distinguishes it from others. Kind of like attaching a red balloon to your car in a giant parking lot.

  41. The "Big Moose" guidelines don't offer very much information. Personally, I'd want to make sure that you could refuse publication if you win, or if you enter and publication is offered–this is especially important for a contest where the contract terms aren't clear. I'd suggest writing the publisher to ask.

    It's also important to ask yourself, for contests where publication is the prize, whether this is a publisher you'd truly want to be published by.

    My other concern is that Black Lawrence seems to funnel the bulk of its submissions through its contests, many of which have an entry fee. This is a de facto reading fee.

  42. Had never heard of Black Lawrence Press but don't love their mentioning that, while they don't charge a reading fee to the authors (that should go unsaid, no real publishers charge fees) they "appreciate" if the writer buys some copies of their own book…huh? I don't understand the concept of this printing company but I'm not sure a "publishing" contract with them is such a prize!

  43. Any opinion on "The Big Moose" prize for unpublished novels? The winner gets $1000, 10 free books and a book publication contract with the sponsor (Black Lawrence Press), but the details of the publishing contract are not on the website. Entry fee is only $25.


  44. I have yet to actually speak to/ read a story of someone who *verifiably* can say that they had a good experience with a contest. Sorry– I don't mean to accuse anyone of making false statements about how they found some contests to be worthwhile– but let's get real. Anyone can post anything on the web. It really seems that there are better ways to spend both time and energy than "contest-chasing", as someone else wrote.

  45. I looked into Jenkins group after publishing 444 The Key to the Island. I wanted more info on their marketing options. When a CA rep called me I asked him if he would provide some referrals of satisfied customers who used their marketing. I never heard from him again. I had already signed up for the IP book awards, so we'll see next year how that pans out, but I fear it might just be another money maker for them. After all, they also have several other award options, all of which cost at least $75 to enter. I have to ask myself, "Why does one company need to run 4 different award programs each year?"

  46. I've always thought that $50 or so was a fair Reader's Fee when submitting to a contest – one that looks good and brings some prestige. ?? I honestly don't know where anyone would be able to find professional readers willing to pick up extra material for free. They'll only do it if they get paid. So I have to wonder who it is that might be reading my entry if there's no reading fee whatsoever.

  47. I'm a finalist in the mystery category for the 2012 Global Ebook Awards. The reason I 'nominated' my novel Ice on the Grapevine was that Dan offered a six segment 'course' in promoting self pinned books for the fee.

    I soon realized that most people don't realize that it's less than prestigious and it gave me an excuse to send out press releases. I'm sure I've got more than my initial investment's worth in PR and knowledge. I'm even going to Santa Barbara for a fun weekend with my sister and win or not I'll take photos to use for PR when I get home. e.g. me with Dan Poynter, holding a print copy of my novel.

    I intend to take full advantage, which it seems last years 'nominees' didn't. But then, I have a marketing background as well.

    So it worked for me.

  48. Thanks so much for this informative article, as well as some of the informative comments – I am glad to see a list (assumedly partial) of scam awards – and also glad I checked, as I was considering entering my own book. I saw the ad for the International Book Awards yesterday, displayed prominently at the top of my daily newsletter from Publisher's Lunch. I wonder if they realize this award is non on the up-and-up?

  49. I was unfortunate enough to fall prey to one of these "contests" early on. I also got suckered into having one of my poems "converted to song."

    Both experiences produced horribly edited work that mangled my original pieces. It made me very sad, disheartened even. It was a blow that took years to recover from.

    Sure, there's no problem entering contests. But be wary that there are sharks in the water. Seriously consider what you're doing if someone wants money to read or publish your work. If you get published and have to buy the book or product that was produced, something is wrong.

    Great post, thank you for putting this out there.

  50. Thank you for your response Victoria,

    I’m also saddened by the Dan Poynter E-book awards. Why would he tarnish his reputation like that? Plus the judging process with over 250 judges looks like a mess…who are these people?

    I’d also be weary of the Hollywood Book Festival company…and their dozens of other contests…”Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, London, DIY, etc.) Although only a handful of categories for each contest, no judges are listed and prizes are slim or non-existent. $50-$75 entry fee.

    Although the IPPYS/Independent Publisher Awards (Jenkins Group) have been around awhile, I still get an unsettling feeling…

    Here are a couple of threads I found online…

    "Yes, I hired the Jenkins Group. I spent a lot of money, mailed the required 24 books and never heard one word from them after their ‘show’ in New York City where my book was to be displayed. When I called to ask about feedback, I was told they do not provide feedback. The other books were designated to go to other shows which I signed up for and I never heard anything from those shows either. Not a word. (I heard plenty from them prior to them receiving my money). Not only do I feel I was cheated out of my money and materials, I also know they are selling the books. So, I am competing for sales on books that I gave away. Expensive lesson for me." –thewritetherapy (9-7-2010), thread at: http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=129169

    Another Jenkins Group thread about the spamming & upselling of their products and awards:

    “For those newbies who do respond, a relentless upsell process begins — if you're willing to pay $100 to enter a contest, maybe you'll pay $300 to enter in two more categories. If you're willing to pay $300 for a book contest, then maybe you'll pay $500 to have your book displayed at a series of exhibits/shows..”



  51. My main unpleasant encounter with a writing contest was the time the guy running it tried to bribe me into keeping mum about his chicanery.

    Remember Mitch Graham, real name Mitchell Gross, the guy who set up the Merrill Writing Contest, with a 5000 prize, and hired prominent s.f. writer Ben Bova to judge it? Trouble was, there was only one entry…Mitchell's own. So of course Ben declared the sole entrant to be the winner, which was according to the rules. (Ben thought this odd, but rules are rules, and most writers aren't as scam conscious as Victoria and I are.)

    So Mitchell Graham won his own contest. Writer Beware did a lot of computer searching and tracing before we were able to link the contest with Mitchell's own financial projects, because it was pretty hidden. We also verified that it had no link (as had been implied to us) to Merrill Lynch.

    Aha. When I went to DragonCon that year, I was on a panel with Mitchell, the brand new shiny contest winning author who'd just had his brand new "award winning" book released from HarperCollins. Matter of fact, I sat next to him. When time came for me to do my usual brief Writer Beware summary, I was careful to mention that the "Merrill Company's" contest was bogus. I didn't look at Mitchell when I said it, but I stationed a friend in the second row with orders to watch his expression. The moment I said it, his face took on a startled, then panicky expression, then smoothed out very quickly. Con artists get good at that.

    Heh heh, I thought. So he knows we're on to him. He won't attempt to milk anyone else with his "contest." And he didn't.

    But that's not the end of the story. I had barely walked in the door from DragonCon, when my home phone rang. It was Mitchell.

    "Say, Ann, I found your cellphone case right below where you were sitting. Did you miss it yet?"

    "Can't be mine," I said.

    "Oh, you need to check," Mitchell said. "I'm sure I saw it with you while we were sitting there. And there's $500 bucks in the front compartment. I'll send it right up to you, Fed Ex. You'll have it tomorrow."


    For a moment I was struck by the sheer ballsiness of a guy who assumed everyone was as dishonest as he is. Then I shook my head, and grinned. "Nope, Mitchell. Can't be mine. I don't have a cellphone case."

    "Are you sure?" he sounded less sure of himself, now.

    "Yes, positive," I said. "Oh…and congratulations on winning such a…prestigious…contest."

    Silence on the other end. Then he said, quietly, "Thank you."

    "I have to go now," I said. "Bye."

    And that was my only face to face encounter with a writing scammer. Of course, since that time, Mitchell has gone on to bigger and better scams. Victoria blogged about him fairly recently.


    -A.C. Crispin
    Chair, Writer Beware

  52. >Has anybody ever had dealings with this society scbwi that they've not been pleased with?<

    The SCBWI is a well known and respected Author and Illustrator Society.
    While I am sure that somewhere, someone is not happy with any large organization, the SCBWI is a well established, totally honourable group.

  53. RE: Dan Poynter's Global eBook Awards

    I also find this contest questionable and find the partnership with Smashwords unfortunate. I use Smashwords and worry Coker's mention of the contest will give it a veneer of prestige which isn't actually there. It may be above board business-wise, but entrants have to know that the contests goal is to sell them stuff.

  54. John asked,

    Why aren’t you mentioning the other major FAUX AWARDS?

    Because of space concerns–I didn't want this post to run on and on. Thanks for mentioning them for me.

    I think the IPPYs actually have some standing, because they've been around the longest and as a result have gained some name recognition. I'm also on the fence about the Next Generation Indie Book Awards, because they offer genuine prizes. Even so, it's a lot of money for a slim chance of winning.

    Some other high-entry-fee moneymakers:

    – The Global Ebook Awards ($79), which unfortunately benefit from having Dan Poynter's name attached.

    – the eLit Awards ($80), sponsored by expensive self-pub and "marketing" service, the Jenkins Group.

    – IndieReader Discovery Awards ($150)–this one has the highest fee of all; I blogged about it a while back.

  55. I read the MeeGenius contract and almost wished I hadn't.

    In perpetuity? And they are claiming ALL rights, and demanding that you ask their permission before doing anything with the work. If they grant it, then you have to credit THEM and give THEM royalties.

    Excuuuuuuuse me.

  56. Hi Victoria,

    Why aren’t you mentioning the other major FAUX AWARDS?:

    Indie Excellence Awards
    -$69 entry fee
    -Winners get nothing.
    -Only Eight books from the pool of winners receive any prizes
    -No Judges are listed
    -Massive 130 categories
    -Winners and finalists get the “privilege” to buy stickers ($25 per roll OUCH!) & Certificates ($25 plus $7 shipping DOUBLE OUCH!)
    -Can we say “Ka-Ching” to the owner Ellen Reid?

    Independent Publisher Awards (IPPYS)
    Also runs the “Moonbeam”, the “Axiom”, the “Living Now” & “eLit” Awards
    -The GRANDDADDY of pointless awards.
    -No judges listed
    -Over 85 categories
    -Wallet busting entry fees of $75 to $95
    -Winners and finalists get the “privilege” to buy stickers, certificates, even the digital images for your website are sold
    -Winners get to attend a pointless “gala” in NYC. All costs incurred by authors and publishers.
    -When was the last time you saw a media article about the IPPYS?
    -Jim Barnes and Jenkins must be bringing in hundreds of thousands of dollars… KA-CHING!

    Indie Book Awards
    -Some judges listed with dubious expertise. Do I really want aspiring writers or newbie publishers judging my work?
    -Bank Busting $75 per category
    -Winners and finalists have the “privilege” to buy stickers ($30 a roll plus shipping), certificates ($20 plus shipping) & medals ($25 plus shipping)
    -Some prize money (most winners get $100, barely covering the cost of submission)
    -60 categories
    -Ran by a publisher in Canada! Conflict of Interest anyone?

    There are many others as you know Victoria. I’m sure your readers would appreciate a full list of these awards!


  57. Anon said: "The publishing would and Writers Beware in particular needs to come to the realization the legit self publishing, including some legit contests offered by them is here to stay"

    While I am not sure why it would matter to Self Publishers what the Publishing World (what does "the publishing world" mean) thinks or doesn't think, I think it would be great if you could list the "Legit" Self Publishing Contests, of which you speak. I'm being serious. If a list of these exist and the contest names could be spread around, it would save many a new writer and self publishing Author a lot of heart ache, not to mention money.

  58. In the case of "Readers Favorite", the contest is so obviously a money maker, it is hard to believe one could fall for it. Yet it continues to happen and I applaud you for bringing this, and other's to our attention.

    The RF site offers so much more then an expensive contest, for mauscripts as well as printed books, where one may win a roll of stickers.
    It offers "free" reviews by just regular folk who like to read (I assume). But, if you just can't wait (and many of us hate waiting) for $49 you can get a "fast track review", which I assume is still offered up by the same regular reviewers (though it doesn't say THEY get paid to read faster) or if, for fast tracking purposes, a RF employee writes the review.
    There are all sorts of other services you can pay for on the site. For example, $95 signs you up for an"E-Query", where an "expert" will help you create a query email and then he will email it to 1000 agents and publishers (that have AGREED to receive such)

    Now really, what Legitimate Agents and Publishers would EVER agree to receiving queries done up like this? They are not lacking in queries submitted in the regular manner, and while many are open to simultaneous submission, they are thinking 5 other Agents, 5 other Publishers, not 1000!
    Of course, fee based Agents and Publishers would find this idea very attractive. Red flags are all over the site!

    Joining a recognized writer/illustrator organization, entering their contests, that's the best bet, in my opinion.

  59. I have addressed contests as well from the stand point of THEIR income – not the writers. http://tinyurl.com/6ustvuo Yes, there are legit contests, but even if you are a great writer, the chances of win/place/show are not good.

  60. If a contest is a no fee contest, and the award is a legitimate publishing contract, even if from a partnership publisher, what is their to bad mouth? So what if the publisher hopes to publish some of the better entries. Aren't we all adults that can determine for ourselves whether or not it's right for us.
    Too many of these Writers Beware blogs sound like a foiled writer's pity party's.
    The publishing would and Writers Beware in particular needs to come to the realization the legit self publishing, including some legit contests offered by them is here to stay

  61. Wow – I can't THANK YOU enough for this quality information! I am looking to publish my first book, and my intuition has been ringing out loud and clear against many options I've been coming across. You have helped me immeasurably toward making a quality decision, and probably have saved me from many restless nights in my future! THANK YOU.

  62. This is scary. I never liked entering contests but this only verifies my ill feelings in doing so. Thanks for the heads-up.

  63. I actually got my start by winning a reputable contest and have since sold half a dozen books to a big six publisher. But the first anonymous's comment made me a little wide-eyed: small entry fees and big pay-out ratios? That sounds like a strategy for buying lottery tickets.

    Please, enter reputable contests with no entry fees. (And no fine print.) And while prize money is nice, think more in terms of a win that will get you out of the slushpile. Enter contests that editors and agents will conceivably have heard of. When you can mention such a win in your query letter, you'll get more manuscript requests. Worked for me.

    What doesn't seem to work, by all reports, is mentioning wins in contests nobody has heard of.

  64. Kerry–There are two contests, owned by the same company. I was positing that 500 writers might enter each contest, which would indeed generate $69,000 for the sponsor.

  65. The question to ask about the ABNA (or any legit contest) is "Can I think of the title of one book that won?" Followed by, "Have I bought a book because it won that contest?"

  66. You need a little help on your math $69 x500 is $34,500. Good article though. All contest have some advertising agenda behind them.

  67. Sally–there are excellent, reputable contests in the USA as well. I don't mean to imply that all contests are suspect. But I still think that for new writers especially, few contests offer rewards that are proportional to the time and sometimes the money involved (especially if they take the work off the market by requiring exclusive submission). I hear from many writers who devote a lot of time and effort to contest-chasing that they might be devoting to trying to get published.

  68. Redleg–no, I haven't. Amazon Breakthrough is legitimate and popular (and free). But–assuming that an entrant has a marketable manuscript–I think the odds of getting a publishing contract via this contest are probably lower than by simply submitting in the normal way, given the vagaries of crowdsourced judging and the enormous number of entrants.

  69. Here in the UK there are many long-established competitions with a very high reputation–and no hidden small print. (eg Bridport Fish and Asham, to name but three.) They are a great way of building a career and earning some money (although the odds are low.) I know, because I've done quite well out of them over the years So please, don't throw out the baby with the bathwater.

    I do agree, however, that care needs to be taken before entering those without a proven track record.

  70. Some good information, but there are also many good writing contests. Look for contests with small entry fees and large payout ratios. Some contests let you submit multiple manuscripts for just $10 or less, and some offer over $500 for the grand prize.

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