Monday, May 5, 2014

Guest Blogger, C. Hope Clark on How Books Win Awards

Today we are fortunate to have a guest posting on Writers Circle.
C. Hope Clark author of the Carolina Slade mystery series set in the low country of South Carolina is a generous writer, and her online advice through her  newsletters and blog has benefited me and others like me.  I asked Hope to share her insight on How Books Win Awards, and she was most gracious to do so. Be sure to visit her  website.



How Books Win Awards

By C. Hope Clark


Seems the entire world is publishing a book, and with that wave of interest comes a variety of spin-offs –one of which is the book award. Being an indie author, however, limits your ability to enter many prestigious book contests that require traditional publication. So, let’s stick to the indies, and let’s talk about what it takes to improve the chances of your book landing one of those ribbons so you can put that gold sticker on your cover, or banner on your website.

The ultimate requirement of any contest is a well-written book. While that’s a highly subjective prerequisite, there comes a point where judges can usually agree on the semi-finalist level of most competitions purely based on the quality. A well-honed voice and a grand tale take time to develop. If your words don’t sing yet,
then hold off entering a contest. Fix that book. Edit it until you can’t stand to read it any more, then consider a contest.

The first book in my mystery series, Lowcountry Bribe, took years to complete. That means three complete rewrites (throwing the book away twice and starting over) and running it by a critique group one slow chapter at a time. However, once I began to feel a bit happy with it, I entered contests PRE-publication. Why submit to an agent or publisher and expect them to like it if I didn’t? Only when I began placing in first chapter, first line, first page, first 50 pages contests, and of course entire manuscript contests, did I dare venture into the real world.

There are more than book awards out there. Take advantage of contests that accept partials as well as those that take the full manuscript. It’s a wonderful feeling to self-publish and be able to say from day one thatyou are award-winning.
But let’s say you have a book in your hand. It’s published. You want credibility and awards seem to offer a dose of that. You feel your work can stand the scrutiny.

As a judge in several contests over the years, to include both indie and traditional publication, I would like to share with you how I initially view a candidate’s submission.

  • First, realize that a judge rarely reads the entire book. Gasp! And a chuckle.
  • Surely you knew that. Many judges receive dozens of books at a time. The most I ever was assigned was 85 . . . with a six-week deadline. Humanly impossible. So I developed a system to cull the number down to the semi-finalist level. It’s tough love, but it works.
  • Study the title. Is it wordy? Does it entice? Is it boring? Too literal?
  • Study the front cover and spine. Are the words hard to read (i.e., red words on a black background)? Is the artwork professional? Does it make me pause to enjoy it? Make me wonder what the book is about? Is it memorable in a GOOD way?
  • Read the back cover. Does that blurb draw me in? The blurb is the first piece of your writing a judge will see. It has to be superb, not a last minute effort. It must grip the reader, not just give a general description you slap together. The bio is equally important. Who is this writer? Do I see personality, experience or dedication in this bio?
  • Open the front matter. The acknowledgements, table of contents (if applicable), title page, copyright page, etc. They are the first exposure to formatting and professional appearance after the cover.
  • Read the first page. Not wanting to be too intensely tough, I don’t stop with the first paragraph as some judges do. If that first page captures my attention, I read on. If I make it to the end of chapter one, I set it in the stack with potential. If a book does not meet the first-chapter rule of proper entertainment, it is discarded. Of course I notice the formatting and font as well.
  • Break into the book and read a random page. I want to see if tension, emotion, and personality exist deep inside the book once the author is less fresh, even tired of writing it.
  • Go back and read more diligently the good stack of books. I never look back at the others. I give the book several more chapters, read some in the middle, then the ending.
  • Sounds harsh, but that’s very similar to how a reader selects a book, unless word-of-mouth convinces him to take a chance on it. So first impressions, i.e., cover, first paragraph, and hooks, carry tons of weight during the vetting process of a writing competition.
So, let’s say you have a great book. There are so many awards out there! What do you look for in avoiding a scam?
Entry fee. First of all, entry fees are a necessary evil for most contests, unless there’s a sugar-daddy sponsor in the background. It takes time and man-hours to manage a contest, and that’s assuming publishing isn’t even involved.  But if you have to pay $100 for a gold sticker, stop and ponder whether the contest is worth that sort of investment. I prefer to see a cash award involved. And if you are entering a manuscript, hopefully publication is involved as well. Prizes can justify a $50-$100 entry fee if the sponsor is reputable.
Past winners. If I’ve never heard of a contest, I check the previous winners. I want to know what they did with their luck. Have they evolved? Have they become best-sellers? Or are they even writing anymore. Everyone assumes the previous winners are legit. I once ferreted out deception in a contest where most of the previous winners didn’t even exist, and the first place winner claimed she was never paid her prize.
Rights claimed. No one should take all rights for entering. And if the prize is an indie publication opportunity, then you should still retain your rights. Entering a contest that involves traditional publishing and a contract, should entail giving the normal rights given for most traditional contracts, but keep in mind these contracts are very negotiable. The fine print in those contests may require that you sign a standard contract without negotiation. Ask to see that contract up front before entering. You could be sacrificing rights you prefer to retain.
Bait and switch. In some indie book contests where publication is part of the reward, a publisher might offer you the baseline, lowest package then try to court you to upgrade. Arm yourself with information about the publishing options that the company usually offers before entering.
Study the sponsor. What is its history in publishing? In running a contest? Feel comfy with whoever is running the show. Email and ask questions. Those entities that do not respond are not to be trusted. Don’t talk yourself into those competitions. 
Study the genre categories. When romance is competing with sci-fi, young adult prose with adult poetry, there’s a problem. Make sure that the contest clearly defines the type of book desired and that the requirement isn’t broadly painted all over the place.
Read the fine print, without exception. Make sure you understand each and every item. But most of all, be aware that contests are highly subjective, and two judges would rarely choose the same winner. The type of book that won last year might not be the same as this year, simply due to the judge’s personal likes. Do not take it personal. Just like you cannot please all readers, you will not be a good fit to all judges. And know that good sales means much more than winning a contest, so keep on keeping on with your platform building and marketing, putting that book into the world and selling it. Contests are wonderful to have, but not necessary to make a book a success.

Some book awards for your consideration:
Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award – https://www.createspace.com/abna 
EPIC Awards (ebooks only) – http://www.epiccon.org 
Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators - http://www.scbwi.org/awards/  


At the risk of tooting my own horn, FundsforWriters posts contests each week and vets these entities.
Using a newsletter you trust might be a good way to improve your chances of finding a good contest, and 
decrease your chances of being scammed.
 


BIO: C. Hope Clark is author of the award-winning Carolina Slade Mystery Series and editor of FundsforWriters.com, a website and newsletter that reaches over 40,000 readers. www.chopeclark.com / www.fundsforwriters.com 

 

3 comments:

Hope Clark said...

Thanks for the post, Glenda. Guess you can tell I'm a big fan of contests and awards.

Maren O. Mitchell said...

Glenda, Hope, this is certainly an eye-opener! Thanks for this detailed explanation of how book contests work.

Glenda Beall said...

Many thanks for sharing this information with our readers, Hope. Your advice is always good. This is a post I'll keep handy for the future.