Monday, January 30, 2012

Publishers, pay better attention. Authors, don't pay for contests.

Here's the story: I recently got an email heralding a book contest. Nothing to really shake up my Sunday, but I read on, because the contest is being put on by an organization which exists to support indie authors. The contest is exclusively for self-published books, and the judging panel consists of seasoned agents and publishers who are seeking "overlooked" talent to professionaly represent. Maybe. If they love it. As in: no guarantees, even for the first place winner. Okay, it all sounds a little insulting, but I'm still listening. Like any other writer, I'd love for someone else to handle the publishing side of things. Maybe Vessel has a shot here. I then scroll down to the submission details, and my focus lands on the entry fee. Suddenly, my tempted interest turns into disgust and outrage. The fee is big. Triple digits, people.

Let me get this straight, panel. You are looking to find and assist (and ultimately benefit from) talent that has been overlooked. Overlooked by YOU, the agents and publishers. You want to take a second look now, now that we've all done the legwork ourselves, by pitting us against one another in a contest. And if I win, I might get represented, if you love it? And you want me to pay $150 to get my work in front of you?

Yeeeaah . . . NO.

Seriously. It's like being spit in the face. I am quietly enjoying my Sunday morning here, drinking my earl grey, and you pop up and spit in my face.

Whose idea was this? Are you sure you're talking to authors? People who are not exempt from the recession, who have bills to pay, who go to work and come home and postpone rest, sex, social interaction, and proper nourishment just to get some writing or marketing done? I'm willing to pay a modest fee (I consider that $30 or less) for any contest in which I have a fair chance at winning, be it a costume contest (my Halloween costumes OWN) or a book contest. But these people, and frankly any people who charge struggling authors top dollar for something that offers no guaranteed benefit (publicists, self-publishing "gurus", conference speakers) are missing a grand point: indie authors don't have that kind of money. The money they have is better spent elsewhere, and they know it. Well, some of them do.


If you don't know that, and you write, listen: You DO NOT have to wait, pay, perform, or grovel to get someone in the industry to say your book is worth something. You get it in front of readers, period, and they decide. If readers love it, congratulations. Do what you can to make yourself more visible, and more readers will find you. And if a publisher comes along and thinks you're worth representing, that's great, too. But for Christ's sake, don't pay a guy $150 to take a second look at what he missed the first time around!

Take that $150, and improve your book's chances of being discovered and enjoyed by readers. Here are some things I'd put that $150 toward, off the top of my head:

- Professional editing, proofreading, cover design, or typesetting for my next book
- A new title setup on Lightning Source
- A run of advance reading copies
- A redesign of my website
- Prizes for contest winners
- Ads on GoodReads, or on popular categorized sites through Project Wonderful
- Groceries
- A massage
- Booth or table space at a promotional event
- A round of beers after the Vessel series lands a publishing contract or movie deal

And in case you were wondering just how serious I am about those Halloween costumes, here are my last three, plus a prize-winning Lady Gaga Dance-Off getup. Note: none of these cost over $30 to make. WIN.

Link (2010) and Edward Scissorhands (2011)

Secretary (2009) and my getup for "Show Me Your Teeth" (2010)

Maybe next year I'll go as Thelma Harper . . .

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