The 2011 Indie Publishing Contest

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

I’ve been getting questions about a brand-new writers’ contest: the 2011 Indie Publishing Contest, sponsored by (among others) the San Francisco Writers Conference.

Write, Win AND Publish!

New ‘Indie Publishing Contest’ Revamps the Traditional Writing Contest with the Benefits of Indie Publishing.

Since when can a writing contest turn the winner into an author with a published book…and provide a staff of book marketing professionals to help get the book into bookstores and publicized? This is the new reality of combining a traditional writing contest with the myriad advantages of indie publishing.

By “indie publishing,” they don’t mean true self-publishing, or publishing with an independent publisher, but the kind of publishing provided by print-on-demand publishing services–in this case, Author Solutions, Inc., which is one of the contest sponsors. This is not, in fact, independent publishing–but since I’ve already done two blog posts on that subject, I’m not going to belabor the point.

According to the contest guidelines, writers can enter up to the first 5,000 words of a novel, nonfiction book, story, or poem, from which a grand prize winner, four category winners, and runners up in each category will be selected. The entry fee is $35 ($25 for poems). Category winners will receive either a one-hour consultation with a literary agent, or a free publishing package from ASI. Runners up get $50 plus a 50% discount coupon from ASI. The Grand Prize winner gets “an indie publishing contract” that includes:

  • A print publishing package from Author Solutions
  • eBook format conversion from Author Solutions
  • 90 days of mentoring from a literary agent selected by SFWC
  • 90 days of consulting and publicity from an AuthorHive publicist
  • A high quality video book trailer from AuthorHive
  • The scheduling of a blog tour and a video press release from AuthorHive
  • Distribution of the book online and in bookstores from Author Solutions
  • Book signing at a bookstore near the winner’s home (Continental US only) from Author Solutions
  • Public announcement and promotion at the San Francisco Writers Conference
  • ISBN number from Author Solutions

Now, I have some quibbles with this list. Two of the highlighted items–the ISBN number and the distribution–are a standard part of any print publishing package from Author Solutions, but are listed here as if they’re important extras (plus, the wording of the distribution item might lead inexperienced writers to assume that the winning book will actually appear on physical bookstore shelves, rather than merely being available for order). And I am skeptical of the value of the “consulting and publicity” from AuthorHive, which sells a la carte the mostly dubiously effective, and in many cases wildly overpriced, marketing services that ASI offers through its imprints.

There’s no doubt, however, that this prize would cost a bundle if you had to pay for it, and the literary agent mentoring is a nice perk that ASI authors wouldn’t normally get (I contacted Contest Director Laurie McLean, an agent with Larsen Pomada Literary Agents, to ask who the literary agents would be,and she says they will be chosen after the winners are selected, to ensure they’re a good match for the winners’ writing.) For anyone who was already planning on using a publishing service, it’s an attractive prize.

The problem is, the contest isn’t being pitched to those people. It’s being pitched to anyone and everyone who wants to be published. “While the Holy Grail remains a contract with one of the big six publishers in New York, that goal is getting more elusive than ever for writers,” says Ms. McLean on the main contest page. “We are offering the indie alternative to get to the big six–and hoping to establish the credibility for indie publishing that the indie film and music industries enjoy today.” This characterization of ASI and services like it–which could come straight out of the ASI propaganda mill–not only partakes of the misconceptions and the misleading hype that surround so-called “indie publishing”, but helps to further them. Spin it how you will, at the end of the day (or in this case, at the end of 90 days), the winner will wind up with an unedited (unless they obtain editing themselves) book with limited distribution and major marketing challenges. Could they parlay their way to strong sales and mainstream notice? It’s possible. Motivated self-publishers have accomplished this, and self-publishing evangelists are only too happy to trot out these examples as “proof” that self-publishing can work for anyone. But there are good reasons why, as ASI’s CEO revealed in a January 2009 New York Times article, the average book from any of the ASI brands sells only around 150 copies. That, of course, is not mentioned in the contest material.

So if you’re already thinking of using a publishing service (and I’m optimistically assuming that if you are, you’ve done your research and are clear about your goals), the 2011 Indie Publishing Contest looks like a pretty decent deal. But if your goal is readership, wide exposure, professional credibility–in other words, a writing career–please do not mistake this contest for a step in that direction.

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