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Indie Authors: Use Contests to Promote Your Book, By Johannah Spero

You’ve done the hard work. You’ve written a great book. You’ve even signed with an indie publisher! Now the challenge is: how to make it stand out among the millions of other books in the world.

Entering contests—and winning them—gives you an edge.

In this post, I’ll share four ways that entering contests can make a difference for an indie author, and suggest a few contests to try. But first, a little story about my initial experience with contests and how it transformed my writing career.

After hundreds of rejections for my first novel, Catcher’s Keeper, I submitted to the (now-defunct) Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest. Lo and behold, the manuscript made it to the quarter-finals (top 5% of over 4000 entries).

What that award did for my book is one thing—it legitimized my self-pub, which later won another award. What it did for me as an author is another, much more important thing: it validated my craft. Within a year, I signed my next book with an indie press—which went on to win three separate awards and a contract to make it a trilogy. And that doesn’t include my latest award-winning title!

If it hadn’t been for that initial contest, I may have abandoned my dream of getting published.

Here’s why entering contests should be part of your marketing strategy.

1. Instant credibility with the literary world

“Oh, I see your first book won an award!” -Famous words of a literary agent at the 2014 DFW writers conference as I pitched my next book.

Presumably, your author journey resembles most other authors’ journeys. Lots of querying and rejection before finally achieving the coveted book deal. The gatekeepers of those deals—literary agents, publishers, acquisitions editors, etc—are tasked with finding diamonds in the rough. If your name/book is associated with an award, the literary world takes notice.

In essence, an award seal garners respect in those we are so trying to impress!

2. Measurable results at a good value

With all the options for book marketing, it’s hard to know what’s worth your investment. Especially since many efforts don’t immediately show results. When your book wins or is named a finalist, you have instant results that build your brand as an author.

What are these measurable results?

· Award seals, a press release, fodder for social media posts and online book listings, etc.

· Free book promotion. The book award company promotes its winners—your book!—on its own media channels, at no additional cost to you.

· Press/media kits, which may include coveted editorial reviews. For instance, as part of my Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, Catcher’s Keeper was reviewed by Publisher’s Weekly.

3. Sways readers to choose your book.

Everyone loves a winner. Readers are no exception.

In a sea of thumbnail cover images in an online bookstore, an award seal is a beacon. Rather than choose best-sellers or follow recommendations, many readers seek out award-winners.

Why? An award seal signals good value. Readers know the book has been vetted for quality of writing and story-telling. Given the choice between an award winner or non-award winner of the same genre, readers love winners.

4. Levels-up your bio.

Once you’ve won an award, you are an award-winning author. Period. Proudly rewrite your bio to include that title, and rest assured that no one can take it away from you. Post it everywhere. On your website, your author page on Amazon, etc. You will forever be known as an award-winning author—even if your next book is a total flop. (haha…not likely!)

Plus, winning an award zaps away the self-doubt we authors all have from time to time. It balances the painful cycle of rejection in the query process. The boost is well-deserved. Take it.

That said, if you don’t win or place, you can still get a return on your investment. Claim a “nomination” in your bio. (ie, so-and-so-book nominated for the 2020 IPPY award)

So, you’re ready to enter. Now what?

Most contests cost about $50 to $100 per entry (note: many contests have early-bird discounts). Is this a gamble? Yes, because your book may not win. However, considering many book marketing programs cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, entering contests is a pretty good deal. Plus, the more contests you enter, the better your chances will be to win or place. For the same price as one of those expensive marketing programs, you could enter five or more contests.

Here’s some little-known advice about how the process works.

· Time is of the essence! Most contests are annual, awarding books published the previous year. Start looking to submit your book after the new year. For instance, Boy on Hold was published in August 2019 and it won the IPPY Gold for Best Mystery/Thriller ebook in 2020.

· Many award programs offer a discount when entering multiple categories. Increase your chances of winning by entering as many categories as your budget allows. Sample categories might include: Romance, Northeast Region, LGBTQ, etc.

· Research regional contests. Chances of winning a regional contest are greater than winning a national one, as there are fewer overall entries. For instance, my YA fantasy titled Forte won Best Book of Children’s Literature in the 2015 Adirondack Literary Awards.

· Research contests in your genre and/or category. Think RITA (romance) or Hugos (fantasy), for indie! For instance, the Swoony Awards celebrate reader’s choice clean romance.

· One win is plenty. It may be tempting to enter more, but winning one doesn’t mean you’ll win them all. And, it only takes one win to make your book an award-winner. Save your shekels to enter your next book!

· Winners’ award packages include stickers for your book covers. Also, digital seals. Ask your cover designer to include those digital seals on your front or back cover so that every book ordered will shine!

Indie award contests to try:

American Book Awards

Best Indie Book Awards

Book Excellence Awards

Independent Publisher Book Awards

Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards

National Indie Excellence Awards

Meet JD Spero

Johannah Davies (JD) Spero's writing career took off when her first release, Catcher's Keeper, was a finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award in 2013. Her young adult fantasy Forte series has won recognition from National Indie Excellence Award (2014, 2016), Adirondack Literary Award (2015). Her newest release, Boy on Hold, was a winner in the 2020 Book Excellence Award and a 2020 IPPY Gold winner for Best Mystery/Thriller ebook. With a Masters in Education, Spero leverages her years as a high school English teacher in author presentations across the country, most notably at DFW Writers Conference in 2014. Having lived in various cities from St. Petersburg (Russia) to Boston, she's settled with her husband and three sons in the Adirondack Mountains, where she was born and raised.

Best Piece of Writing Advice: A great story can be ruined with too many words.

How many books did you write before you were first published?

Four. One titled Giddy Up Start Up chronicled my adventures starting my own dot-com company with a friend in the late 90s. I’d like to turn that into a memoir someday.

When do you find time to write:

I try to get 2 hours or 1000 words in a day. Time of day varies but I rarely work at night…unless insomnia hits.

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