Category: 2 Book Contests –– How to Win Them, How to Use them

I didn’t win in the 2014 IPPY Awards – neither did 4,900 other people

Mogollon: A Tale of Mysticism & Mayhem (Bloodsong 2)

It’s amazing how the Universe reaches out shows you what really matters. I was getting all anxious about whether or not I’d win anything in the 2014 IPPY (Independent Publisher) Awards. I put my new book Mogollon: A Tale of Mysticism & Mayhem in maybe four categories, doing a shotgun approach and entering it in any category that it might conceivably win. I thought I’d win something. In the past, I’ve won Gold, Silver, and Bronze Medals in the IPPYs with other books. I know my stuff is pretty good, and I think Mogollon is the best I’ve written. The cover is amazing.

These concerns were swept aside when my hands began REALLY HURTING in the days before the 2014 IPPY winners were announced. Do not make the mistake of thinking that itty-bitty joints will only have itty-bitty pain. They can have REALLY BIG PAIN.

I have been blissfully abusing my shoulders, arms and hands for almost twenty years, since I began writing full time in 1995. I wrote in eight-hour marathons, producing torrents of words, book upon book, with no physical problems.  Yes, my shoulders would occasionally refuse to move after a writing session, but nothing prepared me for the full scale physical rebellion that occurred as the 2014 IPPY Award contest approached its close.

When your hands REALLY HURT and you’re wondering how you’re going to produce the ten or so books you’ve got as drafts on your hard drive, or if you’re going to be able to keep doing what you love most in life, how you did in a friggin’ contest pales to insignificance.

* * *

A realization threaded through the tenderness of my painful pinkies: if I pulled a big zero, so did approximately 4,900 other entrants! We are the majority! In any democratic system, we’d be the winners! Even though my focus at the moment is on my digital woes, I realized that many of those 4,900 people might like  a pick me up about the whole thing.  Fortunately, I have an article about losing in contests prepared and ready for you. [I've lost before! ;-) ]

If you feel badly about spending a bunch of money and getting nothing back but heartburn, read and enjoy:

While winning is fun, you can learn a lot from losing. Maybe even more than from winning. The last time I lost big in the IPPYs, I wrote a lengthy true story about what I’d learned from losing in horse shows. I’m linking it here and above.  I’m gonna do a short recap below. I think I’ve got about ten minutes more typing in me for the day. (No, my hands haven’t stopped hurting.)

* * *

What you can win from losing: I’ve ridden horses most of my life. My family operated a  ranch where we bred, birthed, raised, trained and showed horses for twenty years. We still have five, even though we’re in retirement mode.

To show horses and win, you have to be a killer.  Getting a horse trained and in shape for showing, getting yourself in the same shape, learning to ride well enough to perform in the show ring, and handling everything that goes on at a show [your nerves and the horse's] is a HUGE job. Huge. You have to really want to win to master all that. You need to develop “one-pointed consciousness” like meditation masters and martial artists. A horse show championship is the black belt of riding.

The Monterrey Trails Classic Peruvian Paso Horse Show was one of the most prestigious shows in the Peruvian Paso breed. One balmy day, I found myself in the arena mounted on Vistoso, one of the best horses we’d bred in twenty years. A gorgeous bright chestnut (think the brightest red Revlon hair color ), Vistoso was an amazing horse. Beautiful head carriage, collection. Gait up the wazoo. Plus I had a jacket that exactly matched his coat. We were on as we cruised around the ring. That horse did not take a false step the entire class.

AZTECA DE ORO BSN & I AT MONTEREY This isn't me on Vistoso, this is me on his full brother, Azteca. Don't have a pic of Vistoso.

I figured we had it made in the shade. The class was ours.

The announcer began calling out the winners. The way Peruvian shows go, everyone who didn’t win is dismissed first, then the awards are announced lowest place to highest: fifth, fourth, third. Second.

For some reason, they called my number. I got second. What!? Impossible. We were perfect. More than perfect. Way better than the winner. She was a petite woman I knew from hanging out at shows. Her horse was a small liver chestnut. Liver? Yes.

She won. I got royally pi**ed. And stayed that way.

Later that evening, the dinner dance that the show hosted was rockin’. Food, drink, everything. And everyone. Threading my way through the crowds, I ran smack into the judge. She beamed at me and said, “Boy, you really rode that horse this afternoon.”

I’m not a  wimp. I’m a liberated woman. I’ve taught assertiveness trainings. I fired back, “If you thought I rode so well, why didn’t you give me first instead of second?” My eyes were not shooting daggers, they were machetes.

She rocked back and said without pause, “This is a really good show. A second here is the same as a championship somewhere else.”

I left, glad I’d asserted myself. I felt righteous.

* * *

Fast forward to the end of the show season. I was at Griffith Park in Los Angeles, the mega-horse park where our National Championships were held that year. That competition was too tough for me; I didn’t make the first cuts in my classes. With nothing else to do, I watched the show from the stadium. My back went up when that woman, the one  who stole the class from me in Monterrey, rode in on that rotten little liver horse.

I leaned forward, a growl turning over in my throat. She was a petite, slender woman with rich brown hair. Her spine was erect, perfectly balanced as she sat the horse. She held her hands low, almost touching the front of the saddle. Her equitation was plu-perfect.

Her horse, the grubby little thing I’d dismissed, wasn’t so grubby when I looked at him carefully. Liver chestnut is actually a rich medium brown, very correct and conservative. The horse was small and fine, elegant, like its rider. They were a brilliant match of type and style. The animal moved along, relaxed, but alert, and precisely gaited.

Riding is one sport where the better you are, the less you do. You can see dressage riders in the Olympics whose horses are doing unbelievable things, but you can’t see the rider doing anything. The pair before me were like that. Exquisite. There’s good riding, and then excellent riding. This was riding touched by angels.

My mouth fell open. My hands went cold. I didn’t win that class in Monterrey because I wasn’t good enough. I couldn’t see my competition because I was busy riding my own horse. Seeing that woman in that arena told me that she and that little gelding were world class. (In fact, they would win the National Champion of Champions Performance Gelding title later in the show.)

I remembered what I had said to that judge. My cheeks flamed.  I had been so rude to that nice woman. I am still embarrassed about what I said.

* * *

So there it is: I didn’t win because I didn’t deserve to. I didn’t know I wasn’t the best because I was busy riding my own horse and couldn’t see the others.

Addressing my fellow 4,900 “losers”, am I saying that our books didn’t win in the IPPYs because they weren’t good enough? Well . . .

Let’s take a look at that. When you enter your book in a contest, it’s like entering the arena on Vistoso that day in Monterrey. You can’t see the competition. You don’t know how good the other entrants’ books were. And you’ll never know. Remember me mouthing off to that judge when you feel like screaming over your placement. Don’t do something similar and embarrass yourself.

LET’S LOOK AT BOOK CONTESTS. YOU’VE ZEROED OUT AT THE IPPYS THIS YEAR. WHAT SHOULD YOU DO? HERE ARE SOME OPTIONS:

1. Never enter a book contest again. This is a pretty good option. Book contests are expensive. Aside from the cost of editing, proofreading, having my book designed and printed, along with the nineteen (yes, nineteen) years of my life I spent writing my book, Mogollon: A Tale of Mysticism & Mayhem, I forked out perhaps $300 in entry fees for the categories I entered.

Here’s a big question: do indie authors need awards from book contests to sell their books? Let’s look at some of the most successful authors––indie or traditional––of our time. Take John Locke, the first indie published author to sell one million ebooks. What did that get him? A lot of money and a contract with Simon & Schuster, one that he designed that meets his needs.  And then we’ve got Amanda Hocking, who parlayed her young adult series into millions of book sales and dollars, and a contract with St. Martin’s Press. Darcie Chan, who published her book as an eBook after being rejected my the major publishers. She’s probably getting close to a million eBook sales by now and is a NYT Bestselling author, not to mention having a lot more loose change. What list of successful indies could leave out JA Konrath, the father of the “you can do better publishing it yourself” movement.

Did any of these people use awards from book contests for independent presses as their springboards to success? No. Did any of them enter such contests? Not that I know of. (I don’t think they do blog tours, either.)

From these success stories, it looks like not entering book contests may increase your chances of success. Figuring out how to effectively sell your book is way to go.

2. Say you want to win prizes and enter more contests. What then? I’m like that. A compulsive competitor. I like to say, “Hi, I’m Sandy Nathan, award-winning author. I’ve won . . .” I like stickers and medals and certificates. I like to increase the number of wins I’ve got and post the new totals all over. Look at my website, for Pete’s sake. If that isn’t ever conspicuous flashing of glitz I don’t know what is.

You’re like me, you didn’t win the IPPYs this year, but you want to try again. Read the linked article and do what it says. This is my famous “What I do to win book contests” article. Do all that and enter your new book next year. [Caveat: you don't need to include press kits anymore, so putting together a winning entry isn't as awful.]

Or–change contests. The IPPYs are a huge, prestigious contest, like the National Championships I described above. Are you up to that competition? If you don’t think you you can make it in the rarefied atmosphere of the IPPYs, pick a different contest. My article on how to win book contests has links to some very nice smaller contests. Maybe one is just perfect for your book.

3. If my recitation of what you actually get out of book contests tells you there’s no sense at all in entering, try picking a contest with really good prizes. Good prizes are a reason to compete even if you see no reason to enter anything after my little pep talk above.  The National Indie Excellence Contest has killer prizes for the top books in the competition. Check ‘em out on their web site. They have regular winner and finalist prizes for the various categories, but the overall winners get stuff like thousands of dollars of services from top publicists.

The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy

The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy (Earth’s End 1) This is The Angel's original cover, which won the Gold.

4. What does winning  mean?

A WINNER! In 2011, I was thrilled and delighted when my book The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy won the Gold Medal in Visionary Fiction at the 2011 IPPYs. I’d won in previous IPPYs, but never a Gold.

The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy is the first book of the Earth’s End series. The series is a fantasy/sci-fi/visionary fiction tale about people pushed to the literal ends of the earth. In The Angel, nuclear holocaust looms as the characters work to mend their past “business” and figure out how to survive the destruction of the planet.

The Angel is a good book. It’s an important book treating the possibility of nuclear weapons destroying our world, as well as what can come from an economic disaster which is not successfully resolved. It’s beautifully produced and has a killer cover. I like this book very much.

 

 

Lady Grace & the War for a New World

A LOSER! Lady Grace & the War for a New World is the second book in the Earth’s End series. I entered it in the 2012 IPPY Awards. Lady Grace sets out what happens to a small group of survivors of the nuclear war as they begin to create a new world. Every book professional who has touched Lady Grace has told me that it’s not just better than The Angel, it’s way better.

“Your pacing, the plotting, the characters––all are terrific. This is the best writing you’ve done.” That was my editor, who is one tough cookie. Others professionals said the same sort of thing: I’d hit my stride with Lady Grace. I knew it, too.

How do you tell when you’re getting accurate feedback? A woman who told me she’d hated everything I’ve written called me babbling in rapture after reading Lady Grace “It’s fantastic, Sandy. It’s the best book I’ve ever read. How did you do that? Where did you come up with all that?” And more, she went on and on. I loved it.

So, even though everyone loved Lady Grace and it was a better book than the Gold-winning Angel, it got Zippo in the 2012 IPPYs. A big nothing. However,  Lady Grace’s original cover sucked. It was a case of me directing my designer too much and in the wrong direction. We changed the cover and title. Voila! A repackaged book that’s way better that the WINNER! But it’s still a LOSER!

 

Mogollon: A Tale of Mysticism & Mayhem (Bloodsong 2)

ANOTHER LOSER! Mogollon: A Tale of Mysticism & Mayhem is the best book I’ve written, in my opinion.  My little band of fans also says it’s the best book I’ve written. It’s got a killer cover with Rick Mora, a famous Native American actor, model, and philanthropist on the front.

 

SO WHAT ABOUT JUDGING? I’m not doing the snotty thing that I did to that poor judge in Monterrey.  I don’t know what the competition was in 2012 or 2014, or what the competition was in 2011 when The Angel won the Gold.

It’s just really weird to me that a lesser book should win the competition and a superior ones not even place. Did the judges read it? Maybe totally different judges were working in 2012 and 2014, and they had different preferences. A lot of things could have happened, and some of them must have.

What does the judging mean? What do you win when you win? Are the winners really the best books? What does an award mean?

The more I think on these things, the more I tend to agree with my husband. Maybe twenty-four awards is enough.

So, to the 4,900 friends and fellow campers who did nothing in the  2o14 IPPYs, we’ve finished our romp through Book Contest Land. I don’t know if I made you feel any better after your non-award, but maybe I made  you more thoughtful.

HERE’S BREAKING NEWS ON THE POWER OF BLOGGING AND THE INTERNET: I posted the article you’re reading and thought nothing more of it. A few days later, I Googled 2014 IPPY WINNERS and was stunned to find that my blog article was the #6 ranked entry, with only posts by those who ran the IPPY Awards above me. I Googled again the next day and found my article was #5th and #6th listed out of a total of 247,000 results. It was ranked above ALL THE WINNERS and the gigantic GOODREADS! I’ve got it on my Facebook pages, asking people to share. (If  you’d like to share this blog article, I’ve got a share mechanism on the page somewhere. Have a ball!)

Remains to be seen how this will shake out, but losing that contest may be the biggest break I’ve had!

So long friends, win or lose–blog about it!

HERE’S THE EVIDENCE: A SCREEN SHOT OF MY YOUR SHELF LIFE ARTICLE VERY CLOSE TO THE TOP:

HERE'S PROOF: ;MY ARTICLE ABOUT LOSING GOOGLES #5 AND #6 ABOVE ALL WINNERS AND GOODREADS!

So long for now! Keep losing, everyone! The company’s great and you may get lots of recognition from it!
Sandy Nathan: My old, really cool website with all the award stickers and a free eBook download through May, 2014!

My New, Interactive Website

 

The IPPY Award Winners Announced Starting April 30!

This is the Silver Nautilus Award won by my children's nonfiction book, Tecolote: The Little Horse That Could.

I just received the notice below from The Independent Publisher, the company sponsoring the 2014 IPPY (Independent Press) Awards:

Thank you for entering the 2014 Independent Publisher Book Awards! [I entered my brand-new visionary fiction/fantasy/multi-cultural mix 'em up Mogollon: A Tale of Mysticism & Mayhem]

And thanks for being part of this amazingly diverse, world-wide contest. Over 5,000 entries have come in, from all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, nine Canadian provinces, and 33 other countries around the globe.  [That's lotsa books.]

JUST ONE MORE WEEK OF JUDGING UNTIL THE RESULTS ANNOUNCEMENT! [Whoa. I had no idea the judging was ending so soon.]

We plan to begin announcing results a week from today, WEDNESDAY APRIL 30th, and finalize results by Friday, May 2nd. Results will go live the following Tuesday, May 6th, and be announced to the public and national media that day.

BEST OF LUCK TO ALL!

We plan to begin announcing results on about April 30th, to try and give you some time for arranging your schedule if you win an award. We hold the awards ceremony during BookExpo America [BEA] because so many of you already plan to be in New York at that time, but anyone who wins a medal is certainly welcome. [Have you ever been to BEA? It's the largest book exposition in the United States. HUGE! Everyone's there: the major publishers, the major celebrity authors, every sort of vendor. Indie publishers and trade organizations. People run screaming when celebs are sighted. It is a gigantic party with books. Went once. Still saving to afford it again.]

Below is the list of our judging criteria. Every book entered gets evaluated in each of these areas, and if they score well are assessed further and judged against the other top books in the category. Every year we have a handful of entrants complain that we “didn’t read the entire book,” and no, of course we don’t read every book all the way through. Our expert judges, most of whom have been evaluating books for 10-20 years, are skilled enough to critique a book fairly quickly and efficiently — and you probably can, too. All of us do a version of it every time we scan through a book at a bookstore or library when deciding if we’re going to buy it or borrow it.

IPPY AWARD GOLD MEDAL won by my book The Angel & the Brown-Eyed Boy

HOW THEY JUDGE BOOKS:

First Impression – Front, back and inside – would you pull it from the bookstore or library shelf?

Design – Cover design, typeface, message, front & back – does the cover make you want to look inside?

Interior layout, typeface, illustrations – is it easy to read; is it a pleasure to look at?

Originality – Is it a fresh approach?  Has it been done too much?

Use of language – Grammar, style, voice – does it flow? Does it make you want to keep reading?

Message delivery – Is the message promised by the cover being delivered, and in a compelling way?

Relevance – Is the book pertinent to our time?  Is this a message that should be heard?

What do the winners receive? All IPPY Award medalists will receive a medal, a certificate, and 20 awards seals. Those medalists not attending the New York event will receive the above items by mail, in a packet including the event program, press release, etc.  Preview IPPY Awards seals, medals and other merchandise.

IPPY AWARD SILVER MEDAL won my Numenon: A Tale of Mysticism & Money

ABOUT ENTERING AND WINNING BOOK CONTESTS:

My books have won twenty-four national awards. I’ve won gold, silver, and bronze medals in the IPPYs, which are the biggest and oldest contest for independent presses. One of my books has also been a Finalist in the Benjamin Franklin Award, sponsored by the IBPA. This award is perhaps more prestigious than the IPPY Award. And I’ve won two Silver Nautilus Awards and a bunch of winner and finalist medals in smaller contests.

Am I bragging? No. My stomach is dancing around like a bowl of Jello-O doing the marimba. Because you have won once, does not mean you will win again, even if the book you enter is better than the one that won. Sorry campers. You don’t know who else is entered in the contest or what the judges want.

A real problem for those who have won is the feeling of entitlement: “I won last year. My books are really good.” And then you start picking spots in the house where you’re going to hang your medal.

In psychological terms, this is known as “Cruisin’ for a Bruisin.” You’re setting yourself up for a good whack on the backside (or ego) if you don’t win.

Winning before doesn’t mean you won’t win. The entry process is like waiting for a baby, except that is more certain. You know you’ll get a baby, barring disaster, but you don’t know if it will be a beauty or look like a troll. With book awards, you don’t know nothin.’

I wrote some articles about winning book contests, since I’ve done it a lot. It’s not as horrible as the articles indicate. I entered two contests with two new books this year. Whereas a publicity packet used to be required, the two contests I entered didn’t want one any more. That makes the entry process WAY easier and less expensive. Here are a few of my contest related  articles:

WHAT YOU CAN WIN BY LOSING: This happened to me.

HOW TO WIN A BOOK CONTEST: It’s not this bad any more, because they don’t require press packets any more. But if you want to really know how to win a contest, here it is.

IPPY AWARD BRONZE MEDAL won by Stepping Off the Edge

Questions about the IPPY awards? Contact Jim Barnes, Awards Director
jimb@bookpublishing.com
ph: 1-800-644-0133 x1011

 

GOOD LUCK, ALL!

SANDY NATHAN

My website.
My new, killer INTERACTIVE website.
Me on Facebook

 

What You Can Win by Losing: The 2012 IPPY (Independent Publisher) Awards Have Been Announced! Didn’t Win? Some Words to Cheer You Up

The Gold Medal in the IPPY Awards--So near, but so far

On May 2, 2012, awards for the last few categories of the 2012 IPPY (Independent Publisher) Awards were announced. Did your book receive an award?

Mine didn’t, either. I’ve been entering the IPPYs for years. This was the first time  I didn’t win something. Kinda shocking.

It hurts to have your masterpiece spurned, but doesn’t hurt half as much as getting a one star review. That’s like a crossbow bolt to the heart, except you don’t get to die. You get to read those words savaging your beloved baby forever, or as long as your book’s Amazon page lasts. So losing in the IPPYs isn’t that bad.

You feel better already, don’t you?

This is an article about dealing with not winning a book contest. Usually I write about how to win book contests. One of the things I say in those articles is that you can do everything I say to do to win and still lose. I just demonstrated that.

Not winning in the 2012 IPPY (Independent Press) Awards brought to mind an actual event that happened to me in the olden days, before my body started disintegrating. I used to show horses.  My family was into horses. That means: We’d blow the kids’ college tuition fund if a good show prospect came up. We were over-the-top, raving horse maniacs, like everyone else we knew. We bred, raised, trained and showed our horses, which were Peruvian Paso horses. That’s right, they originated in Peru. What follows is an uplifting to you (I hope), though extremely embarrassing to me, tale illustrating what can be learned through losing.

Hang in there: This is more of a short (or medium length) story, than a blog post. Actually, it’s a free Kindle short.

Azteca de Oro BSN & I at the Monterey show. This is NOT me riding Vistoso. I couldn't find a picture of the Big V and me. I'm riding Vistoso's full brother, Azteca, at the Monterey Fairgrounds. Close enough.

OK. I was riding one of our top horses, Vistoso, at the Mission Trails Classic Championship Peruvian Paso Horse Show in Monterey, CA.  The Monterey show was very large and prestigious. All the top ranches attended the event; winning was a real coup.

Vistoso and I were in some class, most likely Performance Geldings, since he was a performance gelding. In performance classes, the horses don’t just zoom around the arena looking beautiful. They have to do something: stop and back up, go fast, go slow, turn in circles, reverse, and serpentine through poles set so close that the animals looked like snakes with manes and tails.

Vistoso and I were having the ride of a lifetime. We were on. We were in perfect harmony: a gorgeous young horse and an aging-but-still-pretty-together woman. Vistoso was a tall, bright chestnut gelding. He was big; he was bold. He was magnificent. (Which is what Vistoso means: Beautiful, delightful, showy, spectacular. Peruvian Paso horses are required to have Spanish names, in homage to their Peruvian roots.)

We moved around the carefully groomed arena. The stadium surrounding us was filled with everyone who wasn’t riding a horse or getting ready to. Vistoso didn’t take a false step the whole class. I could hear the four-beat sound of his gait, the paso llano, a slow gait particular to his breed. We were in perfect balance, horse and rider.

Other horses were in the arena, but I knew we had it nailed. We’d win the class, go on to the championship competition, and win that. From there, Vistoso would become the new Champion of Champions.

TWIGGY & LILY at Monterey–- This is my daughter Lily riding out of the arena on Twiggy, probably the hottest horse we've ever owned. Notice how the horse seems to be compressed horizontally, smashed from front to back. That's because she wants to leave the ring. If Lily let go of the reins, that horse would launch faster than something from Vandenburg Air Force Base.

The judge pointed to a number of horses moving along the rail, including Vistoso and me, and indicated that we should move to the center of the arena, next to the flapping canvas pavilion where the ring steward and officials sat with a pile of gaudy trophies. I eyed the trophies, panting slightly. We were in “the good pile.”

The judge then motioned to the horses still moving along the rail, indicating that they should leave the arena through the newly opened gates. They were “the bad pile.”

If you’re in the good pile, you’re that much closer to winning. Except that horses do not care about winning. They are herd animals: they care about being with their their buddies, who were leaving the arena. Horses in the good pile can become very anxious at this point.

The judge sent us to the far end of the arena and the announcer began  calling out winners, working from the lowest place to the highest. A couple of honorable mentions. Fifth place. Fourth . . . When their numbers were announced, riders piloted their horses to the flapping pavilion and picked up their ribbons. They then left the arena, the horses practically bolting as they neared the open gates.

The higher your placement, the worse it gets. I was circling Vistoso at close to light speed as he became increasingly distressed watching his fellow equines escape. Finally, the Big V and I were the only horse/rider pair in the arena, except for this other woman on a little liver chestnut. (Yes, he was the color of liver.) I knew her. She was a really nice lady. Little horse. No sweat. The class was mine. I kept circling Vistoso, hoping that my triumph wouldn’t be overshadowed by him bucking me off. Then the announcer called the second place number.

It was MY number! I came in second.  That was impossible. I had won the class. No one could have had a ride as good as ours. I rode out of the arena with my lousy red ribbon. I was pissed off, and I stayed that way the rest of the day, and into the night.

Evening fell, as it inevitably does. The big dinner dance was on. The Monterey fairgrounds have a really cool party set-up. Soft lights twinkled and the band struck up. A gorgeous buffet was laid out. Champagne flowed and folks in “Western/Peruvian formal” attire chatted it up or took to the dance floor.

I made my way through the crowd, turned a corner, and ran smack into the show’s  judge. My eyes narrowed and my back went up.

The judge recognized me and put out her hand, grinning broadly. “Boy, did you ride that horse this afternoon!” Her praise was as heartfelt as any I’ve heard.

She didn’t fool me. That class was MINE. “Well, if you liked us so much, why didn’t you give us the blue ribbon?” I said. You see, I’m a liberated woman. I’ve also taken nine million assertiveness trainings. I was not about to let someone ***** me over.

The judge rocked back, and then replied without missing a beat. “Well, this is a very good show. A second prize in this show is equivalent to a championship somewhere else.”

I walked away, feeling slightly better and proud that I’d spoken up for myself. I was no wimp.

* * *

Fast forward to the end of the show season, late Fall. I’m at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center in Griffith Park, Los Angeles, CA. The National Championship Show for the Peruvian Paso breed is  in full swing. This is the big, BIG time. Griffith Park is a real equestrian center. Massive cement grandstands circle an over-sized ring, creating a bowl which is spanned by a very high and equally massive ceiling.

The Nationals are like this: All the horses you’ve seen  in the magazines are there with their famous trainers, equally famous ranch owners, and enough stable help to run a small resort. The barns where the horses are kept when not performing sport flags and banners and swags up and down the aisles. Each ranch has its signature colors. Videos advertising the ranches’ charms and horses for sale play at the end of each stall row. Multicolor ribbons flutter, too––whatever each ranch has won at the show is displayed front and center.  Believe it or not, some ranches deck out their turf with potted palms and carpeting. It’s a spectacle that looks like it came out of George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, but with more horses.

My nervous system goes into overload and then flames out with the tension of the Nationals. I’d already blown the classes I was riding in. “The bad pile” was probably above my head in that company.  I had plenty of free time, so I sat in the stands, watching the show.

I jumped out of my seat when the  woman who stole that class from me in Monterey rode through the gates. I leaned forward, teeth bared, a growl turning over in my throat. She was a petite, slender woman with rich dark hair. Her spine was erect, perfectly balanced as she sat the horse. Her stirrups were long, permitting her legs to extend downward gracefully. If you had dropped a line from the point of her knee, it would touch the tip of her toes. She held her hands low, almost touching the front of the saddle. Her equitation was plu-perfect.

Her horse, the grubby little thing I’d dismissed, wasn’t so grubby when I looked at him carefully. Liver chestnut is actually a rich medium brown, very correct and conservative. The horse was small and fine, elegant, like its rider. They were a brilliant match of type and style. Her poncho, saddle, bridle, everything, was exactly what the rule book specified. The animal moved along, relaxed, but alert, and precisely gaited.

Riding is one sport where the better you are, the less you do. You can see dressage riders in the Olympics whose horses are doing unbelievable things, but you can’t see the rider doing anything. The pair before me were like that. Exquisite. You know, there’s good riding, and then excellent riding. This was riding touched by angels.

I sat there, my mouth falling open. My hands went cold. I didn’t win that class in Monterey because I wasn’t good enough. I couldn’t see my competition because I was busy riding my own horse. Seeing her in that arena told me that she and that little gelding were world class. (In fact, they would win the National Champion of Champions Performance Gelding title later in the show.)

I had a sinking feeling when I realized what I’d done. I felt like my center of gravity was ten feet below the stadium and dropping. I remembered what I had said to that judge. My cheeks flamed. Embarrassment so powerful that you could almost see it washed over me. I had been so rude to that nice woman. I am still embarrassed about what I said, many years later.

I’ll never forget it.

* * *

So there it is: I didn’t win because I didn’t deserve to. I didn’t know I wasn’t the best because I was busy riding my own horse and couldn’t see the others.

* * *

Am I saying that your book didn’t win in the IPPYs because it wasn’t good enough? Well, . . .

Let’s take a look at that. When you enter your book in a contest, it’s like entering the arena on Vistoso that day in Monterey. You’re busy with your own entrant and can’t see the competition. You don’t know how good the other entrants’ books were. And you’ll never know. Remember me mouthing off to that judge when you feel like screaming over your placement. Don’t embarrass yourself.

Let’s look at book contests. You’ve zeroed out at the IPPYs this year. What should you do? Here are some options:

1. Walk away from it and never enter a book contest again. This is a pretty good option. Book contests are expensive. Aside from the cost of editing, proofreading, having my book designed and printed, along with the two years of my life I spent writing my book, Lady Grace, I forked out maybe $150 for the single category I entered. That includes the entry fee, postage, and materials for the press kit, which I included even though it wasn’t required. If I’d entered more categories or books, the cost would have multiplied.

Lady Grace, my 2012 entry into the book contests. Finished moments before entries close,will the Lady have what it takes?

As an indie author, do you need awards from book contests to sell your book? Let’s look at some of the most successful authors––indie or traditional––of our time. Take John Locke, the first indie published author to sell one million ebooks. John’s probably about to hit the two million mark by now. What did that get him? A lot of money and a contract with Simon & Schuster, one that he designed that meets his needs. (No yanking the indie author around.) And then we’ve got Amanda Hocking, who parlayed her young adult series into millions of book sales and dollars, and a contract with St. Martin’s Press. Darcie Chan, who published her book as an eBook after being rejected my the major publishers. She’s probably getting close to a million eBook sales by now and is a NYT Bestselling author, not to mention having a lot more loose change. What list of successful indies could leave out JA Konrath, the father of the “you can do better publishing it yourself” movement. Or M.J. Rose, probably the first author to go the self-pub route.

Did any of these people use awards from book contests for independent presses as their springboards to success? No. Did any of them enter such contests? Not that I know of.

(I don’t think they do blog tours, either.)

From these success stories, it looks like not entering book contests may increase your chances of success. Figuring out how to effectively sell your book is way to go.

2. Say you want to win prizes and enter more contests. What then? I’m like that. A compulsive competitor. I like to say, “Hi, I’m Sandy Nathan, award-winning author. I’ve won . . .” I like stickers and medals and certificates. I like to increase the number of wins I’ve got and post the new totals all over. Look at my website, for Pete’s sake. If that isn’t ever conspicuous flashing of glitz I don’t know what is.

My husband says, “Isn’t twenty-one awards enough?” I say, “No! A million wouldn’t be enough!”

You’re like me, you didn’t win the IPPYs this year, but you want to try again. Read the article below and follow it. This is my famous “What I do to win book contests” article. Do all that and enter your new book next year.

Or––take a look at your book and what you’re writing now. The IPPYs are a huge, prestigious contest, like the National Championships I described above. Are you up to that competition? If you don’t think you you can make it in the rarefied atmosphere of the IPPYs, pick a different contest. My article on how to win book contests has links to some very nice smaller contests. Maybe one is just perfect for your book.

3. If my recitation of what you actually get out of book contests sticks in your craw, pick a contest with really good prizes. Good prizes are a reason to compete even if you’re horrified by what I’ve said above.  I’m sharing a secret now. The 2012 National Indie Excellence Contest has killer prizes. Check ‘em out on their web site. They have regular winner and finalist prizes for the various categories, but the overall winners get stuff like thousands of dollars of services from top publicists. That’s worth competing for. It’s too late to enter this year, but 2013 is coming fast.

The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy

The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy––Winner of the 2011 Gold Medal for Visionary Fiction in the IPPY Awards

4. What does winning really mean? In 2011, I was thrilled and delighted when my book The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy won the Gold Medal in Visionary Fiction at the IPPYs. I’d won in previous IPPYs, but never a Gold. I feel tremendous gratitude to the people putting on the contest for acknowledging my book as they did.

The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy is Book I of Tales from Earth’s End. The series is a fantasy/sci-fi/visionary fiction tale about people pushed to the literal ends of the earth. In The Angel, nuclear holocaust looms as the characters work to mend their past “business” and figure out how to survive the destruction of the planet. The Angel is a good book. It’s an important book treating the possibility of nuclear weapons destroying our world, as well as what can come from an economic disaster which is not successfully resolved. It’s beautifully produced and has a killer cover. I like this book very much.

Lady Grace is the second book in the Tales from Earth’s End series and was my entry in the 2012 IPPY Awards. Lady Grace sets out what happens to a small group of survivors of the nuclear war as they begin to create a new world. Every book professional who has touched Lady Grace has told me that it’s not just better than The Angel, it’s way better. “Your pacing, the plotting, the characters––all are terrific. This is the best writing you’ve done.” That was my editor. Others have said the same sort of thing: I’ve hit my stride with Lady Grace. I knew it, too.

A woman in my book club who told me she’d hated everything I’ve written called me babbling in rapture after reading Lady Grace. “It’s fantastic, Sandy. It’s the best book I’ve ever read. How did you do that? Where did you come up with all that?” And more, she went on and on. I loved it.

Lady Grace, my 2012 entry into the book contests. Finished moments before entries closed, Lady Grace was left in the paddock area at the end of the race.

OK. The Angel won the Visionary Fiction category in 2011, for which I will be eternally grateful. Lady Grace didn’t win anything in 2012, but it’s a better book in every way. Except maybe its cover. The version I submitted was straight off the presses; it might have been a proof. The print copies of the book arrived so close to the contest’s deadline that we didn’t have time to make adjustments in the cover or anything else before shipping them off to the IPPYs.

The final issue I’m raising is about judging. I’m not doing the snotty thing that I did to that poor judge in Monterey. I realize that the emerging National Champion of Champions might have been entered in the Visionary Fiction category in 2012. I don’t know what the competition was, or what the competition was in 2011 when The Angel won the Gold.

It’s just really weird to me that a lesser book should win the competition and a superior one not even place. Did the judges read it? Maybe totally different judges were working in 2012, and they had different preferences. You see that showing horses all the time. Some judges hate a particular type, while others love it. Maybe the fact that the cover wasn’t totally jelled knocked it out. That’s possible. We’ve since modified the cover, cleaning up the colors and changing the tag line.

A lot of things could have happened, and some of them must have.

What does the judging mean? What do you win when you win? Are the winners really the best books? What does an award mean?

The more I think on these things, the more I tend to agree with my husband. Maybe twenty-one awards is enough. (Twenty-two now. Lady Grace was a finalist in Visionary Fiction at the 2012 Indie Excellence Awards.)

So, campers, we’ve finished our romp through Contestland. I don’t know if I made you feel any better after your non-award, but maybe I made  you more thoughtful.

I look forward to hearing from others about their contest experiences. Would you do it again? What did it do for book sales? Your career?

Let me know, folks.

Sandy Nathan, Award-winning Author

Sandy Nathan is the winner of twenty-one national awards for her writing. She’s won in categories from memoir, to visionary fiction, to children’s nonfiction. And more.

Sandy’s  books are: (Click link to the left for more information on each book. All links below go to Kindle sale pages.)
Sam & Emily: A Love Story from the Underground (paperback. Kindle coming)
Lady Grace: A Thrilling Adventure Wrapped in the Embrace of Epic Love (paperback. Kindle coming)
The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy
Numenon: A Tale of Mysticism & Money

Tecolote: The Little Horse That Could

Stepping Off the Edge: Learning & Living Spiritual Practice

 

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