Thousands of romance writers are dusting off suitcases, evaluating their wardrobes and polishing their elevator pitches in preparation for the 34th Annual Conference of Romance Writers of America in San Antonio, Texas.
The conference is exhilarating and exhausting-who has time for sleep with so much to do, so many people to meet? Excitement rises to a fever pitch the night the awards are presented. Most of us only dream of standing on that stage like an Oscar® nominee. Today’s guest, NANCY HERKNESS , is one of those select few to be honored in San Antonio. Congratulations on your RITA® nomination, Nancy, and welcome to RU!
Sometimes a book just resonates with readers. Luckily, my second Whisper Horse novel Country Roads happens to be one of those. It has won the Golden Quill and the National Excellence in Romance Fiction awards, and—wonder of wonders!—is nominated for a RITA® in contemporary romance. I’m pretty sure my next-door neighbors wonder why there is so much joyous shrieking going on at my house this year as I’ve gotten the surprise phone calls announcing each incredible piece of good news.
It’s a thrill to win, and I have a lovely collection of plaques, certificates, and pins to commemorate the various honors my books have received, all proudly displayed in my office. I have fingers and toes crossed that one day I will be able to add the ultimate trophy to my collection: the golden RITA statue. Although, honestly, just being nominated for it is such a huge kick that I am deliriously happy with my silver RITA finalist’s pin…for now.
This is all wonderful, gratifying stuff, but it’s not just about the ego-stroking. I also have very practical reasons for sending my books out to be judged.
1) Hand-selling. What sells more books than any other kind of marketing? Word-of-mouth. How do you create it? Nobody knows. However, the wonderful folks who volunteer to judge published book contests are passionate, avid readers. They talk about the books they read and love. That’s a pretty good place to start that precious word-of-mouth effect.
2) Free publicity. Winners and finalists in contests are announced on chapter websites, Facebook pages, and sometimes even in ads in the nationally circulated Romance Writers Report. All of these places reach readers outside of my own sphere of influence which equals lots of potential new fans.
3) Marketing cachet. My books have never made any of the major lists so I can’t say I’m a “New York Times-bestselling” author. However, my books have won contests, so I can say I’m an “award-winning” author. My publisher even markets my Whisper Horse novels as an “award-winning series.”
4) Validation for the reader. When customers make the decision to fork over their hard-earned money to buy a book, they feel more comfortable if the book has been endorsed in some way. That’s why the “bestselling” moniker is so valued, and why authors ask for cover blurbs from other well-known authors. If the book has won an award, that seal of approval reassures the customer that she’s making a worthwhile purchase.
5) Validation for the writer. Publishing careers are rollercoaster rides, the ups and downs influenced by many factors that are totally out of the writer’s control. One thing we do have within our grasp is producing high quality work. Being a finalist or a winner in a contest is unbiased proof that we have done our job well.
Entering contests is not all joy and validation though. When making the decision to hit the published contest circuit, an author should consider some of the drawbacks.
1) Expense. Generally, the entrant must provide between three and five print copies of their book. Publishers sometimes supply those for free, but more often, the author must pay a discounted price for the books. The contest entry fees range from $15 to $30, with the RITA fee coming in at a hefty $50. (Those golden statues must cost a pretty penny!) In addition, postage for three books in a padded envelope runs just under $5.
2) Luck is a factor. Judges are human beings and have their own preferences and tastes, so it is a stroke of good fortune when your book wins, especially in the larger contests. However, I believe a really good book can consistently reach the highly desirable finalist stage in multiple contests.
3) Lack of feedback. Published contests rarely notify entrants of even their numerical scores. No notes of any kind are passed on to indicate why a particular book did not succeed with the judges. This makes it impossible to know what might make the next book more popular.
It’s all worth it though when your phone rings and the voice of a contest coordinator says, “I’m calling with some very good news….” You shriek and dance around your office and race to tell your family members that an expert panel of total strangers loved your book enough to declare it the best in its category.
On those gloomy days when you get a lousy review from Publishers Weekly or your publisher passes on your option book, you can trace your finger over the elegant plaque or pretty pin, savoring the physical proof that your book is considered the top of the heap. It reminds you that despite these upsetting events, you are a good writer.
So you sit back down at your desk and resolve to write an even better book, one that just might earn a golden statue.
So let’s hear from you! Writing contests: love them or hate them? Why?
Join us on Friday when regular RU columnist ADAM FIRESTONE returns.
Nancy Herkness is an award-winning author of contemporary romance. Her current release The Place I Belong is the third in the Whisper Horse series, published by Montlake Romance. The second Whisper Horse novel Country Roads is nominated for a 2014 Romance Writers of America RITA™ award.
Nancy is a member of Romance Writers of America, New Jersey Romance Writers, and Novelists, Inc., and has received many honors for her work, including the Golden Leaf award, the Golden Quill award, and the National Excellence in Romance Fiction award. She graduated from Princeton University with a degree in English literature and creative writing.
A native of West Virginia, Nancy now lives in New Jersey with her husband and two mismatched dogs.
For more information about Nancy and her books, visit www.NancyHerkness.com .
You can also find Nancy on:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/nancyherkness 
Twitter: https://twitter.com/NancyHerkness 
Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/nancyherkness/