Thursday, April 25, 2013

My Literary Contest History and a Jump I Probably Ought Not Take....

I was not going to write about this. I really, really wasn't. A friend of mine blogged yesterday about a certain literary award, and I wanted to write my own post about it, but thought I shouldn't. I mean, remember my whole deal about the tightrope of public etiquette?

Yeah, well.


OK, maybe a compromise. I won't blather on about it. I'll just mention that the Christy Award has a serious flaw: it requires the publisher of the book that wins to pay $1000 to go toward a "marketing plan." That, to me, is ridiculous. The prize money should be paid to the author, not taken from them (or their publisher). (And as my husband said when I told him about this, "If you have to pay $1000 for marketing, what's the $175 they collect from everyone who enters for?")

A huge discussion ensued in the comments of the aforementioned blog over the legitimacy of the award as a whole. Yes, the books are all judged by real judges, who are all industry professionals, and as Jeff Gerke said in one comment, "But it’s not as if the winners won BECAUSE they paid or because they paid more than the other publishers. It’s not an award that goes to the highest bidder."

And for the record, the Christy is a contest I've never entered and probably never will because I don't write what they would consider "Christian fiction." So believe me when I say have no personal stake in the debate one way or the other, except that I find the Christian fiction industry particularly unfriendly to small presses and this is yet another example of that because they know darn well $1000 (plus all the other fees) is a huge chunk o' change for a small publisher or indie author.

Anyway, I'll leave it to you to make your own decision. And what I'm going to talk about now is some of my personal experience with contests.

I entered several contests after Finding Angel released, and I have found they all have...eccentricities.

The INDIE Next Generation Book Awards. This is a huge contest with something like 60 categories of fiction and nonfiction, open only to self-published and small press authors. The entry fee is on the high side ($75 for one category), but when I entered I did so during the window that allows two categories for the price of one--something they do every year. You have to provide two print copies of the book. Each category has a couple of finalists and a winner. Cash prizes go to the winners and medallions go to the finalists. I was a finalist in the YA fiction category:

I've found articles claiming this contest is a scam. Just Google it and plenty more will come up about it. But when you pick apart the contest according to the SFWA criteria, it doesn't fit the "scam" category except for the high-ish entry fee. Again, make your own decision. I happen to love my nice, big, heavy medallion :).

The Compton Crook Award. This contest contacted me. I had never heard of them. I actually looked them up online and wrote to the email address I found there (which was different from the address that contacted me) to make sure I wasn't being scammed. Nope, legit, they said. They actually scour the internet looking for debut authors of spec-fic. Authors can contact them directly as well, but they don't want the contest limited.

There is no entry fee. You only have to send one book, but can send more and any extra end up donated to a children's literacy charity. The winner gets an expense-paid trip to the Balticon, where they receive the award during their banquet. They get a second expense-paid trip the following year to give the award to the next winner.

The oddity is this: other than the first place winner, they don't give any fanfare to the finalists, of which I was one. I have no proof of my status as finalist, though, other than the email they sent me telling me so! They don't post a list online or anything. I did contact them and ask for numbers, as in how many finalists out of how many entries. They said they usually have several finalists out of a total of 60-80 entries each year.

The Grace Awards. This contest is only a few years old. It started as an alternative to Christian contests such as the Christy and Carol Awards that cater to a narrower definition of Christian fiction. It's reader-driven as far as the first part of the contest. Readers have to write a short email nominating a book. The three books within each category that get the most nominations from readers become finalists. Then the judges read each book and determine a winner in each category.

I was a finalist in the YA category. That was cool, but I actually think a bit unfair. It doesn't really reflect the quality of a book, but rather the author's ability to round up enough people to send emails. This isn't a contest that is well-known among readers. Maybe someday it will be. But imho, readers shouldn't bear the responsibility of nominating books for awards, and I hope that as this contest grows they tweak their system.

The Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children’s Literature. This contest requires that a member of the Mythopoeic Society nominate an entrant. I was nominated, but won nothing. I was pretty disappointed about that. It's not judged by industry pros, but rather a committee of Society members. Smallish potatoes, maybe, but I was really hoping. No entry fee, no prize either. But it felt like I would be getting a truly objective judgment.

The Selah Award. I'm not sure I ever told my publisher I even entered this. I did it on a whim. There was a $30 entry fee and I had to send one copy of my book. The only confirmation I got that they received my entry was seeing on my bank statement that the check cleared. There is so little info on this award online it really bothers me and makes me regret entering, to be honest.

The INSPYs. Now we're moving into contests that Seeking Unseen was entered into. Again, this is a reader-nominated contest. No emails have to be sent, but an online form must be filled out by someone other than the author. Only one nomination per book, unlike the Grace Awards. But it still requires getting someone to nominate you. Again--readers should not bear this responsibility. I'd rather pay a small entry fee and enter myself. Anyway, they request five copies of the book. My publisher wrote and explained that we are small press and asked if we could send ebook copies. They said yes. I didn't make the short list, though. I admit, part of me speculates about the connection--did requesting to send ebooks put me on their bad side? Just being honest about the weirdness that goes through my head. More likely it's because my writing is not conventional Christian fiction. Or maybe they just thought it sucked :P.

The Clive Staples Award. Speculative Faith is trying to revive this award. This is the first year for them, and I don't want to criticize because of that. I've already said how I feel about reader-nominated awards, but there is a limit to what a small group can do to get something like this started.

I was nominated. The contest hasn't moved past that stage yet, and honestly I'm not holding my breath about getting any award from them. I'm up against some books I dearly love and would be thrilled to see win. My goal is really to just support this effort in hopes that it gains legs and develops into a more substantial (and non-reader-nominated) award for those of us who get tired of being shunted into that "we don't know what to do with you weird spec-fic writers" category of other contests.

There you have it. My contest history, laid out all nekkid and everything. Take what you will from it. Just don't assume I have a problem with contests in general just because most of them have issues. There is no such thing as a perfect contest. They all limit entrants to some degree (even though the thing that gets my goat most is limiting by finances). The only thing I can say is research contests before you enter. I already linked to this before, but go there again and read carefully: SFWA contests and awards info, where they list all the warning signs of contests that are scams.

And hopefully this will give you a deeper understanding of all that we authors go through.


Anonymous said...

This is a good post, with worthwhile info that I might need someday. I don't think you did any cliff-jumping at all.

Jill said...

oops, I didn't mean to post as anon.

Kat Heckenbach said...

Thanks, Jill.

Kat Heckenbach said...

And I guess I consider this cliff-jumping at least on a small scale because some of these criticisms may not be taken entirely well by the awards organizers. Some will see that it's a matter of all things not being perfect and they're doing their best and such. Others maybe not so much, though.

Anonymous said...

It doesn't seem cliff jumpy to me. As a professional cliff diver, I would know. :)

It's hard with these contests because authors don't feel comfortable critiicising them for obvious reasons but there really isn't anyone out there who has any experience with them who isn't an author. It's not like an auto mechanic shop that diverse people patronize. So if writers don't say something about their experiences, no one knows.

I'm very leery because over the last six months I've seen a groundswell of people and products come to the fore to make money of writers. It's Sutter's Mill with electronic self-publishing. I expect we'll see more "awards" like the Selah crop up.

This is Katherine Coble, by the way.

Kat Heckenbach said...

Hey, you :).

And that is precisely why I did this. I think that no one outside those who have actually participated in literary contests know how they work. Which is one of my issues with reader-driven awards. It's not American Idol. People aren't slammed left and right with advertisement for literary awards so readers don't even *know* there are places for them to nominate books--which puts it on the authors to round up fans.

And products outside of awards contest meant strictly for making money off writers is a-whole-nother topic for me. The word "webinar" alone is enough to make me twitch.

Fred Warren said...

Well, I plan to follow you and Katherine off the cliff tomorrow with a post of my own looking a little more closely at the Christy submission guidelines/contract.

I don't think the Christy is illegitimate, but they've got to revamp its structure soon, because this will severely damage their credibility as word gets around.

I think your comments are on the mark. Recognition is important and appropriate, but popularity contests, sketchy judging, and participation trophies don't help our writers, booksellers, readers, or professional organizations.

Kat Heckenbach said...

Can't wait to read your post, Fred!

R. L. Copple said...

I think my publisher, way back when, or someone, nominated one of my early books for a high-leaning reader voting award. Indeed, I don't think there were any judges, just get enough people to vote for your book, and you'd win. IOW, a popularity contest which has nothing to do with the quality of the fiction.

I think it was two years ago, I entered into the Global Book contest, but again, the first stage of that was to get people to comment on what they liked about your book.

I know judges need some means to thin out the list. They don't want to read hundreds of books, but these things do tend to favor those with a lot of friends who will go to bat for them, no matter the quality.

My suggestion would be the first stage is judged on the first chapter alone. Not ideal, but better than finding out who can get the most friends to vote for them.

Sparks of Ember said...

One of my first thoughts after reading the original blog post (other than disappointment in the way the Christy Award is more licensing than reward) is that if Christian readers/writers want things to change, then it's within all of our power to collectively do something about it. Shift attention elsewhere and replace the Christy with something more meaningful. The Christy award won't mean much if they don't get entries or if buyers start disregarding the sticker.

Anonymous said...

No contesting what you said! Great post with some good common sense writer be ware advise! Rick Christensen

Kat Heckenbach said...

Thanks, Rick! :)

Lyn said...

Read Fred's post and I think you're both being too generous. The Christy Award borders on a scam if it's not an outright bogus award. A thousand bucks required from the winner? Bullcrap. Get a rich donor/sponsor to front all that. Sheesh! Christian marketing - it's all Jesus trinkets and gimme-money-for-nothing anymore. Total blasphemy. Embarrassing to the cause of Christ.

Kat Heckenbach said...

Lyn, I agree with you wholeheartedly on the sponsor part. How many other awards are there that get sponsors and don't ask the winner to pay? Right--ALL of them.

I am only, in this post, being generous in not assuming the participating judges are doing anything other than trying to judge the entrants fairly. Other than that, though....well, that's why I pointed to the article on SFWA about scam contests.

Also, I don't want the authors who have been nominated or won to think I blame them. However, I think the best way to send a message to the Christy regarding this is to have no one enter until they change their policy. (Not holding my breath on that one, though...)

Lyn said...

Right, didn't mean to disparage the judges or participants. Good caveats.

Kat Heckenbach said...

Thanks, Lyn. It's a frustrating situation.

And I totally agree with you about the Jesus trinkets and such.