When is a literary contest not a literary contest?
When its purpose is to make money for the contest sponsor. Alternatively: when its purpose is to assemble a list of likely customers.
Take the online book competition (or book literary contest, or books competition–it doesn’t seem to have an actual name) recently announced by Legaia Books, a publishing and marketing scam I’ve featured on this blog. Here’s one of the solicitation emails that are going out:
Sound tempting? Here are all the reasons to kick this “contest” to the curb.
1. Legaia is a scam. This company–which claims a North Carolina address but really operates out of the Philippines–exists to rip off authors. That’s really all the reason you need to give this contest a miss…but let’s move on.
2. It’s a scam within a scam. Legaia’s contest has all the elements of a profiteering awards program–a different kind of scam, whose template Legaia is borrowing as a way to make some quick bucks and boost its customer list. Here are the markers:
- Solicitation. See the email above.
- A fat entry fee. You have to dig into the contest guidelines to find this: $40 for entries now, $70 for entries after May 11.
- Policies designed to maximize entries. Most profiteering awards programs offer dozens or scores of entry categories, in order to attract the largest number of entrants and thus the biggest pot of entry fees. Legaia’s contest doesn’t have categories–but it’s “open to all aspiring and established authors”, which, combined with what is doubtless a sizeable email solicitation campaign (Legaia is a prolific spammer), is basically the same thing.
- Mystery judging. The prestige of a literary competition is tied, in part, to the reputability of its judges. If the judges’ identities aren’t revealed, you have no way to know whether they have any credits or experience that would qualify them to be judges. They could be just the contest sponsor’s own staff–or no one at all. Legaia’s guidelines include multiple mentions of “judges” but, in true scam contest style, no names.
- Opportunities to spend more money. This is where entrants’ email addresses–which are required for entry–come in handy; non-winners will almost certainly be solicited to buy Legaia’s publishing packages and other services. (Contest guidelines also invite entrants without a book cover to “call us for a professional book cover.”)
- Worthless prizes. Profiteering contest sponsors avoid cutting into entry fee income by offering “prizes” that cost them little or nothing to provide. Legaia is no exception. Given that its services are overpriced and substandard, a “Free Book Publication Coupon” is more like a lump of coal than a Christmas present. The “Seal Awards” aren’t actual seals–just digital images. Winners are promised a “pitch program” that will expose them to “literary offices and film productions”–despite the fact that Legaia can’t cite a single “literary office” or film studio that has ever picked up a book thanks to its (likely nonexistent) efforts. As for the “Marketing Platform worth $15,000″…Legaia offers only junk marketing (“marketing” that’s cheap to provide, can be sold for giant markups, and is not effective for book promotion), so the actual worth is closer to zero.
3. You have to work. In addition to submitting “your (a) manuscript, (b) synopsis, (c) book cover (front and full)” the contest guidelines indicate that there will be a public voting phase (see #7 and #8), which means you will have to bug your friends and family and annoy your social media followers with multiple vote-grubbing posts and announcements. Additionally, you must create a “pitch to the judges” which is “one of the criteria in the second phase of the contest as indicated in Rule 8”. You have the option of making a video or using Legaia’s “Free Pitch Template,” whatever that is; the guidelines offer no guidance on length, content, or anything else.
4. Nobody has heard of it. The supposed benefits of a contest win or placement are often touted by sketchy contests or awards as one of the benefits of entering (not to mention a justification of a big entry fee). You’ll be able to tag your book as an “award-winning book” and yourself as an “award-winning author”. It’ll impress agents and editors! It’ll bring visibility to your work! It’ll increase sales!
Most contests, however, don’t have the prestige or name recognition to accomplish any of that. Agents and editors are well aware of how many dodgy contests are out there competing for writers’ money; “I won Grand Prize in this contest you never heard of!” is unlikely to impress them. As for readers and book buyers, how much they care about award and contest wins is an open question–especially, again, where they’ve never heard of the award or contest. Is it worth $40 (or $70) to you to test that question?
5. A serious lack of literacy. Both the email solicitation reproduced above and the contest pages on the Legaia website are littered with grammatical and other errors (like its many brethren–see the sidebar–Legaia is based overseas). This really shouldn’t need saying, but the sponsors of an English-language contest for English-language books should be able to demonstrate a good command of English.
Any one of these factors should be enough to at least cause you to give this contest the side-eye. Taken all together, they add up to a giant, screaming red flag.
My own feeling about literary contests is that they are mostly a waste of time (even if not of money). Scams and exploitation abound in this space (if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know how many posts I write about problem contests). Even where the contest is legit and doesn’t have “gotchas” in its guidelines, those that can genuinely benefit your writing resume are a tiny minority. Again in my opinion, writers’ time is better spent on publishing or submitting for publication.
That said…if you still are attracted by contests, there are resources on the Contests and Awards page of Writer Beware to help you research ones that won’t rip you off. Also be sure to use the search box in the sidebar to search this blog for any contests I may have written about, and feel free to email me with questions.