“Vote For My Book!” Contests May Hurt Your Credibility…and Your Pocketbook

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I have kind of an odd-ball request: I entered a novel into a contest – kind of an American Idol contest for novels. It’s doing pretty well. It made the semi-finals, unofficially in 10th place out of 296 entries. Unfortunately, only the top 5 have a shot at getting published. One of the top five will be published by (name of company removed). That’s where you might come in. If I get published, that would (a) Be a big boost for my self-published book and (b) Be a nice little thing to mention in my advertising.

Given that, I was wondering if you might be willing to pass the word around to friends, family, employees, contacts who like to read, etc. that my novel might be worth a look. Anyone can comment and vote as long as they register with (the website hosting the contest).

-S

Unfortunately, those “vote for me” emails and posts are frowned upon by many and we don’t want to upset our readers by asking them to participate in something like this.

Realistically, each book in a contest should be judged on its merit, not on the popularity of the author, or how many people the author is able to email while soliciting votes. And, that’s what these contests really are – popularity contests created to drive massive amounts of traffic to the hosting company’s website and, thus, increasing their ad revenues and sales of other products and services they may be offering. Think of it as an online lottery. Lots of people play (and often pay) and only one wins. The vast majority of people voting have not read the book they’re voting for. They’re voting simply because they know Author A or Author B, etc. So, the quality of the winning book is in question, which makes the entire contest questionable. Why would a publishing house publish a crappy book? Because they do it all the time! I know most of you have read a traditionally published book (or more than one) and thought, “HOW did this author get a publishing contract?!”

Traditional publishers have more to compete with now, and must come up with creative ways to generate more income. Tens of thousands of books are self-published each year now. Those books are competing with traditionally published books for the readers’ interest. The traditional publishers (some are even using Print on Demand technology themselves now so they don’t have to fill warehouses with books anymore!) have to think of other ways to get publicity and to generate income. Getting a bunch of unknown authors to pay a fee to enter a contest, and then telling those authors to send their friends and family to a specific website to vote, and selling ads on that website, is actually a pretty profitable idea. They then offer that one winning author a “publishing contract!” Whoo hoo! But, what does that mean? Unfortunately, it can mean almost nothing to the author. First, the author may not get an advance. Second, the print run could be just a few hundred or maybe one or two thousand copies. The author may even have to buy copies of their own book. Being stocked at all the major bookstores is not guaranteed (most traditionally published books are not stocked by all the bookstores anyway becuase there simply isn’t enough shelf space).

So, the publisher may collect “entry fees”, fills up their website with free content, sells ads, markets their other products/services, and then pays out a few thousand dollars to have a few copies of the winner’s book published. Who’s the real winner here?

I personally believe that participating in these “popularity contests” actually hurts an author’s reputation. There are far more professional and legitimate ways to promote a book than to email people and post notes to message boards begging people to vote for your book.