Tuesday, July 21, 2015

To Contest or Not To Contest

In a writer’s world, contest means a competition for prizes — either of a financial, professional or industrial sense. The biggest, most prestigious contests carry huge payouts the Man Booker, Nobel  and Pulitzer are probably the best known, usually run by publishing houses or their affiliates and bookstore chains. No doubt the online booksellers will get into this act soon, if they haven’t already.

With other contests within the writing industry itself (as opposed to publishing or selling books), the prizes are less fiduciary and, consequently, less prestigious. In the mid-1970s, the BBC presented a mini-series, The Glittering Prizes which was shown on American television a few years later to wide acclaim. The series, written by Frederic Raphael,  has been lauded as “a golden age of television, when the BBC made British dramas for a British audience rather than overblown costume nonsense for international consumption” (Amazon customer review) — Upstairs, Downstairs / Downton Abbey fans take note.

Hayyim Bialik
Prizes awarded within the industry are often genre-specific: the RITA, the Agatha, the Dilys, Aurealis Award for Best Horror Novel,  The Bram Stoker; community specific: the Bernstein, the Koret, the Bialik, Edgar Lewis Wallant, Alice B Readers, Prix République du Glamour, the Orwell Prize, the Spear’s Book Award; social issues: the Bellwether; the Pinter; the William O. Douglas.
Alice B. Toklas

The Man Booker, Pulitzer etc. are judged by a particular elite group of people who may or may not reflect the thoughts and considerations of the general public. The criteria for winning such an elevated accolade are, of course, based on the author’s craftsmanship but often there is a socio-political element that must also fit the judges’ narrative or world view.

There are also the industry-related awards such as: the Publishing Innovation Award, for digital publishing; the Hugo, for magazine publishing; the Herman Voaden, for playwriting; the ABC Award, Golden Heart and the Three-Day Novel Contest for the unpublished writer.

For the writer, some of the most rewarding contests are those judged by readers, especially readers in their genre. Among the best are: the HUGOs (Science Fiction), the NERFA,(for Romance novels), the ELLA (for Romance novellas) and the RUBY for (Romance novels) — both the RUBY and ELLA are offered by Romance Writers of Australia, not to be confused with RWA (Romance Writers of America).
Romantic Times also runs reader-judged contests. Smaller contests include the NewEngland Readers’ ChoiceRomancing the Novel PublishedAuthors Contest.

Some of these are not what I call “reader-judged” because the readers are members of the writers’ organizations offering the contest. While they may also be readers, these are more peer-judged than the “real deal readers” who judge our work when they take it out of the library or buy a copy, read it and pass it along to someone they want to share it with. 


  1. I used to enter contests - no more. I ran into a series of mean judges and it damped the spirit of the contest. It's nice to say you are an Award-winning author, but to me, now, the real reward is a satisfied reader.

  2. I have to agree with Kathye about the real reward being a satisfied reader.

    The only contest I've entered since I've been a published author is RWA's RITA this year with SMALL-TOWN MIDWIFE. My last contest before that was the NJ Romance Writers Put Your Heart in a Book in 1999 (I think), My MANDY AND THE MAYOR (which I hope to revise and re-release later this year) won for Short Contemporary Romance.

  3. I've never entered a contest. I'd like to say that I'm above such things and find my reward in the writing itself, but, truth be told, I have to admit I'm a coward. I can't stand the idea of being judged. Nice post, Leigh.

  4. Hi Leigh--
    A good round-up of contests. I sometimes serve as a judge in contests and I'm always sad to hear comments like Kathye's where she encountered mean judges. Being mean is not the role of a judge. Discouraging writers is not the purpose of a contest. It's too bad that some contests still let judges do that.