Writing Contests

For my final post in 2016, I’m honored, once again, to have Ed Abell, author of the award-winning My Father’s Keep, to guest post. Writing contests are a commendable avenue for authors to build their platform and their writing résumé, and Ed’s experience shows how gratifying they can be after all those years of toil and tears.

 

I chose to self-publish because I wanted to be on Amazon and Kindle. That’s the marketplace. These days, even if a publisher did pick my book, I’d still have to show them a marketing plan and self-promote the book. The print-on-demand strategy worked for me.

The bad rap on self-publishing is that anyone can do it and so much of it is crap. So the question becomes, how do you differentiate yourself in that arena? Five-star reviews on Amazon help, but those are mostly friends (bless their hearts). Finishing well in writing contests meant validation from peers and recognition beyond my circle of friends and family. That’s, of course, if I won anything at all.

Between ads in Writer’s Digest, surfing the Internet, and Diana Schramer flagging opportunities for me, I chose fourteen different contests to enter. Each one had different costs and categories. They encompassed regional, national, and international. My book is a creative nonfiction memoir. It was entered as nonfiction, memoir, relationships, and sometimes the contest categorized it themselves. One was even mountain-specific because my story is told during a trek to Mount Everest Base Camp. (Just being included in the twenty-two books under consideration for the Boardman Tasker Prize was a victory.)

All had different rules for application and timing. Some wanted several printed books, some a gifted e-book, and some a PDF file. I made a chart to follow all the instructions and, most importantly, the timing of the contest results.

I had no idea about my chances. What I did know is the process of writing had taken four years and thirty-eight rewrites. I had used beta readers (people who didn’t know me to read the book and comment) and Diana Schramer as my professional editor—the last being so very important in producing a quality product amongst the self-publishing mob.

Months later I’m at our cabin. No Internet and undependable 3G. My phone beeps; an e-mail had arrived through the pine trees:

“Congratulations, Mr. Abell. The Paris International Book Festival is happy to inform you that you have received an Honorable Mention in the General Non-fiction category for your book ‘My Father’s Keep.’”

Fourth in the world in that broad category still busts by buttons. In all, I’d win two international and two national awards for both the paperback and the e-book. One of the gold medallions proudly decorates my book cover.

Did my sales skyrocket? No. But my mission all along was to write a good book, now an award-winning book.

I have included a review from a losing effort. I did not place in this contest. Please note the scores and comments about the editing. Good luck to all.

Judge, 22nd Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards

Books are evaluated on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 meaning “needs improvement” and 5 meaning “outstanding.”

Structure, Organization, and Pacing: 4

Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar: 5

Production Quality and Cover Design: 4

Plot and Story Appeal: 4

Character Appeal and Development: 0 (Non Fiction)

Voice and Writing Style: 4

Judge’s Commentary:

‘My Father’s Keep’ is beautifully written, well structured, and well edited, a professional and worthy book on every level.

The author tells his story without delving into pathos or cliché and the framework of the trip through the Himalaya works beautifully with the subject matter. The fact that, in the end, he got his dad’s ashes to the summit of Everest really hits it home. And it’s a great testament to the book that the author realizes and portrays what a good conclusion this was for him without any hand wringing about not making it to the summit himself. A lot of writers would have fallen into that trap.

The author weaves in scenes from his boyhood, and it works well as he makes his journey. Despite his family’s challenges and the damage it did, many of those scenes are fond memories and as the book progresses, have much more of an impact in the context of the rest of the material. Both the short scene where the author climbs the cliff near Lake Michigan and the one where his dad drives him back to college after his girlfriend have broken up with him hit the reader in the heart. The author’s skill at selling a scene without overwriting it really works here.

The cover, font and interior structure are all professionally done. The fine and professional editing of the book are also a big plus and a rare find in self-published work.

Overall, it is a beautifully done, professional book that would be at home on any bookstore shelf.