• Mark Meier

Monetizing Contest Participation



By Bill Patterson


So, you're involved in some kind of writing contest.  It could be one of those 'honor system' contests like National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo.org) or an actual pay-to-enter contest with a defined prize structure like 3 Day Novel (www.3DayNovel.com) or those overlooked things called "Open Calls"  (The Submissions Grinder).   The one thing they all have in common is that you're writing something against the clock in the hope of earning a prize.


And you don't.  Win the contest I mean (except for NaNo, which you should always win).  Then you realize that the piece of work you've poured all your creativity into is dead.  Its limp, deflated form litters your hard drive like spavined beach chairs set out for the recycle truck after Labor Day.  Totally worthless, right?  Wrong!


Don't let that happen to you.  The way out is simple: Assume you are going to get your rights back to your story.  What would you do with such a story in your writing business?   Because they ARE going to become a part of your writing business.


"Begin with the end in mind."  I hear that phrase all the time, but never really applied it to writing contests until this past year.  I realized that I would probably not win 3 Day Novel, but this time, I was going to write a novella that would bridge Series 1 to Series 2.  If it won, great.  If it didn't, then I would have a novella I would put up on Amazon and make some money with it.  That was the magic—the difference between just another chunk of unsalable DOCX and something to keep the readers happy.


Whenever I spy a writing contest or Open Call I want to enter, I ensure that the story I submit will conform to the contest rules AND be canonically consistent with whatever series I am writing at the moment.  That way, the most likely outcome (I get rejected), fits right in with be whole writing/publishing scheme.


This takes a bit of advanced planning.  You have to estimate when the winner is to be announced, and your rights returned.  It would really suck if you had a short story as a free giveaway to introduce the series, and the darn Open Call holds onto it for six months.  Most Open Calls can give you an estimate of when they will finish the judging process.  


But what if I win the contest?  Huzzah—I can't think of a better outcome!  Think about it.  The contest sponsor is going to promote the <badword> out of the contest, and your content, so that they can make back expenses and maybe beer money.  All you have to do is ask the sponsor if you can include a link to your Amazon product page where Book 1 is sitting there, waiting for them.  Because a lot of contests have pub dates months and months after any possible launch date of Book 1, consider the publication of that should-have-been-first short story as additional advertising for your series.  You might have to write a replacement to that 'lost' short story, but I'm sure that's not going to be a problem for you.


You know, it took me a surprising amount of time to evolve this mindset—seeing contests as a win-win.  I'd either win the contest or Open Call and get published, or I'd get my story back and have a ready spot for it as part of a series.   Now I am taking the next step—integrating the contests that I participate in every year, like 3 Day, into my basic novelling strategy.  The official 3-Day contest is during Labor Day weekend.  I do an 'unofficial' one over Washington's Birthday weekend in February, and am seriously considering a third one over Memorial Day Weekend.  That gives me some 90k of finished novellas—hey, that's enough for a book, or exclusive content for a box set.  So many ways to take this….sorry, I have to get back to writing—the ideas are getting backed up.


Now, what if we just seeded a colony, and ten years out, we run into the wavefront of a supernova?  Turn back, of course, but do we pick up the colony?  Hmmm…



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