Heads I win, tails you lose

And here’s another one from the archives, this one dealing with the matter of contests, contests fees, and self publishing.

Contests are one of the best vehicles for aspiring authors out there… or at least so goes the conventional wisdom, and there is no denying that  in some instances they can be wonderful opportunities. Unfortunately there is also a whole bunch of other instances in which you should probably run the other way.

Now, I’m not knocking all contests, but one of the first things you have to do before you enter one is…  make sure  you can  turn the prize down. Why would you want to do that? Well, let’s face it, the main draw of some of these contests is that they offer you a way into the walled garden of paid authors without having to go through those dreaded gatekeepers known as ‘agents’, that they enable you to break free of that vicious cycle where you can’t get published without an agent and you can’t really get an agent without being published. That’s good, except for the fact that more often than not you don’t really know the terms you are agreeing to, and some can be rather outrageous. Granted, in the real world a new author doesn’t really have that much bargaining power, but at least there you actually get to read the contract before you sign on the dotted line, you can negotiate, and if there is a clause in there that you really can’t live with, well, you can always choose to walk away. Beware of the fact that by entering a contest you may be renouncing that particular right.

Another thing that bugs me (though this one is more of a personal pet-peeve) is that the people who keep saying that contests are an unknown author’s best friends are all too often the same  who are adamantly against self-publishing and reading fees. Money should always flow to the author, they say… before carving a huge exception for contests’ entry fees. Now, I understand that organizing a contest does entail some expenses, but let’s look at the deal those organizers are getting out of the deal: they get hundreds, if not thousands, of submissions, plus fees that more than allow them to recoup any expenses they may incur in along the way.  They  get their pick out of of those hundreds/thousands of works, with the added benefit that authors don’t even have a right to see what kind of terms they are agreeing to, and while they are at it they usually claim exclusive rights to the entry while the contest is underway (something that can translate into more than six months), meaning that the authors are effectively frozen in place until they deign to come down with a verdict.  That is ridiculous.

As for reading fees, well, there I have to agree that those ones are just nasty, and a good sign that you should probably run the other way. That brings us to self-publishing.

Is self-publishing ideal? No, nowhere near it, and it certainly isn’t for everyone. It is hard work, and chances are that your book will languish in obscurity for all times no matter what you do, but the bottom line is that the advent of new technologies has turned it into a viable option that is rapidly gaining in terms of both popularity and acceptance, and unlike what was the case in the past authors can have their book published with some pretty favorable terms for less than what it would cost them to enter a single contest. In other words, while you may not be getting much out of self-publishing, what you do get is a known quantity.

It’s a tough world for authors out there, and the bottom line is that whether you are looking to enter a contest, publish your book via a traditional publisher, struggling to find an agent, or trying to determine what your best option for self-publishing happens to be, you have to be very, very careful… that, and to keep typing.


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