Wednesday, December 09, 2009

On LIterary Snobbery, Contests and Our Readers

I want to talk about contest snobbery and antisnobbery snobbery.

The subject is on my mind because two of my books were named USA Book News finalists this fall. A Retailer's Guide to In-Store Promotions and my poetry chapbook on motherhood. Those events caused quite a nice conversation about awards between me and a couple of my Sharing with Writers newsletter subscribers.

In fact, I often talk to people on both sides of the contest snobbery issue and to some who were still trying to make up their mind which side of the fence they should sit on.

There is a lot of this uncertainty going around in the literary world. I often hear people disdain this contest or that printing press or even that book because it doesn't fit with their literary standards. I might—-on the very same day-—hear authors pooh-poohing poetry or literary works as being elitist or no fun or hard to read or dull.

Here's my stance on both kinds of snobbery. They are both forms of bigotry. That is they are labeling something as less than and making wide generalizations. One could write a book on the reasons people do this. To inflate their own worth, deflate the worth of others, because they are fearful of not fitting with one group or another or being criticized by one of those groups, to protect what they see as their favored position.

You can probably think of other reasons. But today, let's address contest bigotry because that's where this discussion started.

In the past few years as books have procreated like little piglets, we must have some way to help ours stand out for the general reader. Reread the section on contests in your Frugal Book Promoter for a longer discusion if need be. But here's where I stand:

If one must choose between letting readers know you have a quality product (and our books are products even if we don't want to think of them that way) and caving to those who think nothing counts but the Pulitzer and Booker, I'll choose my reader every time.

Do know that people have been paying to enter contests for eons. In fact, many of the finest review journals are nearly fully financed by donations, grants and, yes, contest monies and that isn't new either.

Having said that, there is no reason to waste money entering any contest if you haven't studied the guidelines and aren't confident that you have a quality book and have checked with peers to be sure that the contest you are interested in is on the up and up. But do be careful. Just because a contest does not meet the literary needs of your specific title or the branding concept you have outlined for yourself does not make it a scam or, for that matter, generally undesirable.

Once you have determined yourself a match for a contest, go for it. Once you win place, or show, do all you can to let the world know about it; send out media releases, let your relatives know, and give everyone the link for buying your book! On Creatspace or Amazon or Barnes and Noble online and try to give them a lead to a local or convenient bookstore, too. When I'm talking to my students, I always send them to the university bookstore.

I think Maggie Ball and I have written a chapbook of poetry that will be a perfect stocking stuffer to send Mom and a perfect greeting-card envelope-sized gift to send to other mothers in your life including those of the boomer and/or sandwich generations. Especially those. (-: And that my retail book will benefit those with brick and mortar or online stores. And I'm happy to shout out that they placed this year.

Winners are people who think they are winners. I feel sorry for the Oscar nominees who take on a loser mentality when they don't take home a statue. Or the girl who is voted to the Homecoming Court but is jealous of the winner. In fact, sometimes I wonder about their capacity for a little something called gratitude.

PS: On my Web site there is a short list of accessible contests in the Resources for Writers section (the link for that section is on the top of every page). The list is not long because it includes only contests that I have had personal experience with or know the contest administrators.

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Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of This Is the Place; Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered; Tracings, a chapbook of poetry; and two how to books for writers, The Frugal Book Promoter: How To Do What Your Publisher Won't and The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success. Her FRUGAL book for retailers is A Retailer’s Guide to Frugal In-Store Promotions: How To Increase Profits and Spit in the Eyes of Economic Downturns with Thrifty Events and Sales Techniques. She is also the author of the Amazon Short, "The Great First Impression Book Proposal". Some of her other blogs are, a blog where authors can recycle their favorite reviews. She also blogs at all things editing, grammar, formatting and more at The Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In Editor blog.

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