Writing Contests for Published Authors

June 28, 2019

Is it worthwhile for published authors to enter writing contests? That depends upon your goal. Here are the pros and cons for you to consider before entering your book in a contest. These are paid competitions, where judges actually read your work, and not the ones at conferences where people vote on their favorite books or authors.

Are writing contests for published authors worthwhile?

Gain exposure for your work to new readers
Potential to call yourself an award-winning author
Placement as a semi-finalist or finalist will provide a sense of validation
A winner’s badge will add prestige to your credentials

The contest fees can be high
Entering contests may be time-consuming
Winning awards won’t help you sell books
Low scores, if feedback is provided, can be demoralizing

Prestigious awards are offered in every genre. In the mystery/thriller field, we have MWA’s Edgars® and the International Thriller Writers contest, the Thriller Awards Competition. These books are read by dedicated judges. Mystery conferences like Left Coast Crime and Malice Domestic have contests, but your book has to be nominated and voted on by attendees.

States also have writing awards you can enter, and so do smaller regional or chapter conferences. For example, there’s the Florida Book Awards competition in my state.

How do you decide which contests to enter? Consider these factors:

Sponsoring Organization: Will readers or fellow authors recognize this award? Do you care?
Judges: Are they readers, booksellers, librarians, or other authors?
Prize: This is a prime consideration since you’ll be spending money to enter the contest. Is it worth the entry fee and effort merely to get a certificate if you win? What types of publicity come along with the award? Do the promises of cash and exposure to industry professionals ring true? Will you get a plaque, medallion, lapel pin, or trophy? Do you have to be present to accept your award, or will the sponsors mail it to you? A digital badge is useful, because you can add it to your book cover and website and use it in your promotional posts. Are printed award stickers available for your print books if you don’t want to redo your cover?
Cost in Entry Fee: These can range from $25 to over $100 to enter. See if there’s an early bird discount and try to get your book in before then.
Book Requirements: Does the contest require physical books, which will cost postage, or digital entries?
Competition: Are there multiple categories so your subgenre is represented, or is one general category applied? For example, can you enter for best cozy mystery or amateur sleuth novel rather than best mystery novel? You’ll have a better chance with narrower categories.
Categories: Some contests tempt you by offering additional categories with your submission for a reduced fee. Be careful of your spending as costs will add up. Is this to your benefit or more to the contest organizers who make money from each submission?
Past Experience: If you’ve entered a contest two or three years in a row and your books never place in the finals, or reach the finals but never win, it might be time to save money and move on. Perhaps their judges just don’t appreciate your subgenre or style.

Here’s a watchlist that will help you make an informed decision: Watchdog Desk of the Alliance of Independent Authors

Keeping Track of Entries
How do you find these lesser known contests? Follow your author colleagues and see what contests they’re entering. Look on Facebook at your author friends sites for announcements of contest wins. Also check your local writing organization newsletter. Make a list for your book title of which contests might be appropriate to enter. Be sure to check for your work’s eligibility, entry deadlines, fees, judges and prizes.

When you enter, make a note of the contest name, the sponsor, the costs, the categories you’re entering, the date of submission, the format or number of copies sent, and the dates when finalists and winners will be announced.

In Conclusion
Making the semi-finals or finals of a contest where your book is evaluated against other works is an ego boost. It’s not easy to place against potentially hundreds of other authors, so consider it a well-earned reward if you do place in the top tier. Here are some of the badges I’ve earned and can proudly display on my website book pages.

Readers Favorite Gold Medal  Arizona Literary Award  Rone Award

 CIBA First Place  Royal Palm Gold Award  Top Shelf Winner

If the award doesn’t come with a badge, hire a graphic designer to create one for you or make your own.

Be happy to accept your kudos where you can get them and post about your successes. We want to celebrate with you.

Are writing contests for published authors worthwhile? #bookmarketing #pubtip Share on X

Authors, what do you think? Have you benefited from entering writing contests?


• Posted in Blog • Tags: , , , , , |  14 Comments

14 thoughts on “Writing Contests for Published Authors

  1. I think your point that winning/finaling in contests won’t sell books is an important one. They’re good for validation, but as the years have gone by, I’ve entered fewer and fewer contests. It just doesn’t seem worth the time and expense anymore. Judging, I’ve seen, is all over the place.
    I have medallions, paperweights, and other awards gathering dust in drawers. My certificates are framed and displayed on my office wall.
    I think the most “value” they have is that I can look at them when faced with a review from someone who didn’t like one of my books.

  2. You’re right, Terry. The awards help when a bad review comes in. And I like being able to display the digital badges on my website.

  3. I’m a firm believer in writing contests. My first publishing contract came when I won first place in a mystery contest. While the publisher association wasn’t optimum, I learned a lot. Enough that when my original publisher passed away, an associate publisher offered me a new contract. Winning, even placing ups your credibility as a marketable, readable author. I continue to enter contests on my own. I’m hoping my new publisher will enter my new book in more contests.

    1. I’m a firm believer in them, myself. I feel they are expense worthy. The first time I won, I had no idea the publisher had entered the book. Now I try to do entries myself as well as try to get good reviews. If your name is not well-known, it is a form of quality-control for a reader. I feel it’s all part of the business.

  4. Thonie, thanks for sharing your insights. This brings up another good point. Entering writing contests also shows editors/agents that you are serious about your craft.

  5. Thanks Nancy. I’d only heard about a few independent awards so that was really helpful. I’ve wondered about the value of entering contests and will weigh what you’ve said before entering any. Having said that, I’ve found these contests encouraging and validating … especially after getting rejections.

  6. Joan, I agree that placing in a contest is encouraging and provides validation. However, the expenses add up quickly. Determine if the prize is worth the money, and if the sponsors will mail you any physical items if you’re not present.

  7. Thank you for this informative post. I didn’t know anything and missed opportunities for my first book
    in 2015. Appreciative, I just entered the NRCA for my second book, The Unforgettable Miss Baldwin, Gilded Age historical, published this year, 2019.

  8. Thanks for posting this blog entry on PAN, Nancy. You’ve done a marvelous job of answering my questions. I’ve only entered (and placed) in the RONE a few times…I thought I should try a specific-genre contest next. Onward and upward!

    1. Congrats on placing in the RONE. That’s an accomplishment in itself. As for the other contests, the narrower the category, the better chance of winning.

Comments are closed.