Mastering the Dark Art of Marketing: Contests

by jonnahzkennedy

In this subsidiary post to the post ‘The Dark Art: Marketing’, I’m going to be giving you a little marketing tip that will help you a whole lot in the long run, and that is contests. 

Recently, I entered a story into the Texas Book Festival: Young Adult Division, in which I was told to write a story no more than 2,000 words about the theme: ‘The people your parents warned you about’, and so I set off on the surprisingly difficult task of writing a story of no more than 2,000 words. Whenever I sit down to write anything, I average about 3,500 words on the first try, and normally, there is no one there to stop me or tell me to cut it down, and therefore I end up with over bloated and fat stories that no one reads, but you see, this writing contest presented me with a particular challenge I had never faced before. Firstly, I had to write about an incredibly difficult topic, because ‘The people your parents warned you about’ is such a strange thing to write about, yet I came up with a story idea, but the problem was the execution. After about a month of extraneous edits, cuts, revisions, and over 8 rewrites for the story, we fianlly cut it down to a nice, neat 1,927 word story, double spaced that is a sure to win story, but we don’t find out until October. But you see, I have digressed so far that I have forgotten to mention one of the most important things about this contest: at the Texas Book Festival, there will be hundreds of literary agents, publishers, and editors flying around looking for something new to swipe up, and that’s what makes this game so risky: I have a chance at hitting it big if an editor, or a literary agent happens to pick up the magazine in which the story is published, and if I win, they may pay especially close attention me because of the story, and this is why contests are so important. 

Writing contests are incredible opportunities for indie and new writers because, they challenge you in ways you have likely never been challenged. Before the Texas Book Festival, I had never gone through more than three drafts for a story, and that is because I never had someone telling me to trim it down and cut it down, and I can thank my English teacher who has worked so diligently with me to get this story and The Place Beyond the Courtyard published for that. Writing contests will present you with a prompt that you probabably could not ever imagine writing about, but by presenting you with a prize (the prize for the Texas Book Festival was $250 bucks and a one night stay in Austin where I would be on a Panel at the actual festival if I win first place) that you would kill for, or at least, you would love to win. I really want to be on that panel, and the money is good too, but I mostly want to be on that panel because it means the most important e-word any writer should know: exposure. Exposure, exposure, exposure. That is what writing writing contests are all about: getting exposure so people start to look at you, and look out for your work. When people start to look out for you and your work, you start to get the jitters and you start to build a fanbase, and you start to become an author instead of a salesperson. What is more, contests are a less risky business than trying to go off and publish on your own because, when your enter a contest, you will likely receive valuable feedback about why your work just didn’t make first place or the cut, it also means you don’t have to live with the embarrassment of having to carry on your back: I published a book that flat-lined after it’s release and never pick up. You can move on happily and say: well, there are plenty of contests out there that I can win. Plus, short stories that are rejected can always be compiled into a compilation that you release on line, and at least then you might get some buzz from people who have seen your work online and liked it, and by presenting them the stories they may have never seen and the ones that they have seen, you are improving your chances at becoming John Green. 

So go out, enter contests and become fat and happy at last. Trust me, you really want to enter contests, plus their great for when you’re in a writing slump and just can’t think of anything to write at all. 

Keep writing, and stay strong my ravens!

JZK

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