Welp, The Remainders didn’t place in this year’s Eric Hoffer Book Awards contest. With 2,500 entries, it was far from a sure shot. From the times I was on the other side of the judging table, I know how tough it is to pick a winner. One book might have a slight edge over another that puts it on the short list. And if you enter a competitive category like general fiction, many excellent books might miss the cut. I was disappointed, but I understood.
You may wonder whether you should enter a book contest. Winning an award can help you promote a book (as well as give you a serotonin rush), and the cash prizes are enticing. But are they worth the fees? There are contests where you’re basically paying for a sticker to put on your front cover. If anyone can win an award, what value does it have? Other contests are prestigious, but they have high entry fees and low chances of winning. You might as well spend that money on advertising.
But I find a value from competing that goes beyond winning prizes and having stickers to put on book covers.
It comes from my experience in Toastmasters speech contests. I did those twice a year, except for times I was running contests, serving as a test speaker for evaluation contestants, or judging. Those contests were instrumental in my growth as a speaker. Each time, I challenged myself, tried new things, learned from other contestants, had fun, and made new friends. The wins built my confidence, and the losses—even heartbreaking ones—gave me opportunities to grow. Unlike book contests, Toastmasters speech contests gave me immediate feedback. I can tell from the audience’s reaction how well a speech is going. You might not get any feedback for your book from a contest, even if you win.
What is the value of a book contest? Even in the absence of feedback, you have opportunities to learn. Look at the winning entries and see what they did that put them over the top. You can also look at the Amazon ranking of past winners to see how the awards may have helped them. You also have opportunities to reflect. How can you strengthen your writing? Are you writing in the right genre? What are some new things you can try to craft better books?
The most valuable thing I learned from both Toastmasters and book contests is to keep going. Don’t get discouraged from losing or complacent from winning. I improved as a speaker by giving more speeches. And I’m growing as a writer by writing more books. Sure, some of them won’t become bestsellers, get all five-star reviews, and win contests. But there will be one that does. But I won’t get that winning book if I don’t write it.
Find book contests that fit your type of books and have reasonable entry fees. (Take advantage of early bird pricing.) Even better, look for contests that contribute to charity, like the Maxy Awards. Whether or not you win a prize, you can use contests as opportunities to grow. When you do, you will come out on top.