Are Book Contests Beneficial to Self-Published Authors?
After self-publishing my first Christian book, I was challenged with how best to market it. I explored several options and asked many people about book marketing. The information contained in the Christian Indie Publishing Association (CIPA) blog, “How to Market & Sell Your Book as an Author,” February 5, 2021, by Jonathan Shank, M.Div. is excellent. However, I was not yet a member of CIPA, as I am now, so I did not have access to such wise counsel. In addition to the fantastic indie author resource, CIPA, several people advised me to enter book contests, as this was a great way to increase my visibility as an indie author.
Additionally, I was told winning an award was a great way to create positive buzz for my book. The advice sounded reasonable, so I Googled book contests. As a Christian writer, I found no shortage of book contests, many with sizable and varied Christian book contest categories.
I chose not to enter multiple contests because I needed to first “test the waters.” Each contest had entry fees, and I was unsure of the return on investment (ROI). After extensive due diligence, I chose Readers’ Favorites Book Reviews and Award Contest (https://readersfavorite.com). Readers’ Favorites provided significant resources and were quite helpful in providing additional avenues to market my book. The cost to enter the contest was reasonable, especially if only entering one or two categories. The potential prizes were exciting, and the list of past winners was impressive, ranging from Jim Carrey to Henry Winkler to Eriq La Salle.
Finally, the list of publishing giants with whom Readers’ Favorites works were impressive, ranging from Simon & Schuster to Thomas Nelson to Penguin Random House.
Entering a Book Contest
Entering the contest was quick and easy. Their website walked me through submitting my book. I was able to upload my book in any of the following formats, which they listed in order of preference: PDF, Kindle (MOBI), Microsoft Word (DOC, DOCX), LibreOffice (ODT), RTF, and ePUB. There were over 140 categories from which to enter, with the ability to choose a maximum of 4 per title. There was a separate category for books with illustrations.
Consequently, I would have liked more categories and sub-categories in the Christian genres. It seemed the categories were rather broad, which could potentially create a huge universe for one’s book to compete. Nonetheless, there were certainly Christian category choices.
After submitting my book, I was given additional paid options, including a Press Release Distribution service, a Monthly Book Giveaway program, a Review Exchange Program, a Book Donation Program, and a Monthly Review Announcement Service. I opted to participate in all of these services and found all of them helpful. Again, my focus was on determining the true return on investment if I went “all in.”
After engaging in all these areas, it was a waiting game! The contest deadline is generally the end of April, and the winners’ announcement is the first of September. Interestingly, they will not contact you if your book wins. You must go on to their website, beginning the first of September, and sign in to your account to determine where your book placed. I was not concerned by this, as it was easily accomplished by setting a reminder on my phone.
I did not notice any appreciable return on the investment of the paid options; however, I understood it is often difficult to accurately quantify exposure. I did not receive any indication the Monthly Giveaway, the Press Release Distribution, or the Book Donation program produced sales or heightened awareness. Yet, I am convinced they all build upon a strong marketing foundation, which will pay off down the road.
When the reminder on my phone alerted me that it was time to log onto the website to determine if I won, I did so excitedly. The announcements were pretty straightforward, and it was not difficult to determine if I won and where I placed. In this particular contest, I only received an honorable mention. However, even as an honorable mention, I had access to professional stickers and artwork to add to my cover. The experience was excellent, and I learned a lot. I now understand that entering Book Contests can certainly assist in the marketing of one’s book, and it will also put it in the company of many other like-minded people who are also looking to market their written artistry.
While I was waiting for the announcement from Readers’ Favorites, I was contacted by the TopShelf Magazine Book Awards (https://topshelfmagazine.net/) and notified my book had been nominated for an award. This Book Contest organization was very “author-friendly,” however, they did not have specific categories for Christian books. The process was very similar but not identical, and the cost was equally as reasonable. Once an author was notified of a nomination, they received a significant discount on the contest entry fees, and there was no limit to the number of categories one could enter their book.
TopShelf Magazine Book Awards had a powerful network and did an excellent job of providing visibility and awareness of my book. Unfortunately, due to the global pandemic, their timing was adversely affected, so it took longer than normal to notify their winners. When the contest was over and the winners were notified, I received notice that my book, Divorced But Still Dad came in First Place in the category of Non-Fiction – Social Issues in the 2020 TopShelf Book Awards! The wonderful thing about this award was I did not have to set a reminder. Instead, they contacted me via email to inform me that my book won First Place.
Are Book Contests Beneficial to Authors?
As an independent author, I appreciated the experiences of both book contests. Each contest proved valuable to the marketing of my book and to my education as an indie author. Additionally, each contest required me to do more than “sit and wait,” which I appreciated, as well.
In the world of self-publishing, especially as a Christian author, with a Christian book, book marketing has proven to be invaluable! Whether the end goal is a Christian book award or a secular award, the journey of entering a book contest yielded far more discovery and value than the actual award will ever provide.
I am confident the exposure, efforts, and visibility provided through engagement with book contests are far more valuable than a simple return on investment study will ever reveal. As an independent author with limited books in the market, I have no doubt I will benefit from the avenues the book contests opened, the networks they created, and the doors they opened long after the pride of “placing” has worn off. I strongly encourage indie authors to invest in at least one contest and see for yourselves how these vehicles can provide forward momentum in marketing your Christian book.
The bottom line is when it comes to book contests and indie authors, I say Yes.
About the Author
Ken Gordon is an author of three books, “Divorced But Still Dad – The Faith Principles of Fatherhood for Divorced Men,” “The Love of a Father – Faith Principles of the Power of a Father’s Love,” and “Bad Dogs – A Black Cadet in Dixie.” The first book of his new 12-book children’s series, “Pancake Dad” is scheduled for a March 2021 release. Ken and his wife, Leslie, have four “adulting” children and live in an empty nest in Alabama with their chocolate-colored Cockapoo puppy. You can find Ken at DadsOfFaith.com.