We live in a society – or most of us do, since I’m sure there are a few readers who hail from distant shores that aren’t the US of A – which fosters the idea that everyone will win. Whatever the game is. From reading contests at school (I was perma-banned from them in high school, since I would always win, and it didn’t hurt my feelings a bit) to getting a job, everyone wants to come out on top. Reality, as the adults among us know, is a rather different beast.
Writers will not always win. If you’re submitting a story, over and over, and it’s being rejected over and over, it’s hard to hear ‘It’s not you, it’s me’ but in reality, that’s what it is. Your story might not have been what was needed right at that moment, so it didn’t make the cut. Not that it’s a bad story, but there was bad timing. Now, I am predicating this prep talk on you having done your due diligence. Finding a beta reader or six that has given you objective feedback (feel free to trade stories in the comments) and knowing the story you are sending out is the best it can be. That brave little story all dressed up in it’s Sunday finest may still come home with head hanging and a lovely shiner that Billy-Sue gave him.
‘Cause you don’t always win, and Billy-Sue has learned to fight like h*ll because of that name his parents saddled him with. And sometimes that’s what it takes. Learning how to fight for your victories. Look, life isn’t handing anything to you on a silver platter, unless there is polish and a buffing cloth in the other hand and you aren’t to leave a speck o’tarnish on that, y’hear? Someone is going to sell their story, and someone isn’t. Until recently. Because now, you have options. You don’t have to play the rigged game. You can become truly independent. You have victory in your grasp…!
Until you don’t. The story all togged up in a super-duper cover that doesn’t make it look like it’s wearing a burlap sack to Sunday School, it’s not selling. You don’t know why. It’s gotten decent reviews, but then, it just petered out. Once more, you aren’t a winner. There’s only one thing to do when this happens. Write more.
I was, once upon a time (no comments from the peanut gallery), a runner. I was never terribly fast, but wind me up and let me go and I wouldn’t quit. I’d just keep chugging along until I was told to stop. You aren’t going to win the race on your first try. It takes practice, and it takes work. I think I mentioned that already… and that’s the four-letter word that no-one wants to hear. Words do not fall like pearls from your fingertips onto the page. Rather, they are accumulated like a pearl growing around a grain of sand, until the itch that started that story, that process, is assuaged and you can finish it off with a final swipe of that buffing cloth (belay the silver polish). It’s a painful process, and the modern author, looking through the golden haze at yesteryear, is tempted to believe the stories that are told of huge advances, superb editors, and *coff* ethical agents. Today, when you finish up your pearl, you will still need to market it in a shiny box, put it well-formatted into just the right setting, and then flag down interested connoisseurs to talk about your wares.
We’ve talked about many of those steps on this blog. If you look up at the top of the page, to the ‘Navigating…’ link, you’ll find resources on problems you need to solve. But today, I’m here to tell you about how everyone can be a winner.
You only win if you play the game. The story that sits on your hard drive or in your drawer will never win acclaim, fans, and applause. The only way that will happen is if you put it out there, with hard work and persistence. If you entered a certain Baen contest, and didn’t make the final cut, then take a minute to dissolve your sorrows in chocolate before contemplating that story and what you can do with it next. You can look for markets here, at the Submission Grinder, or you can develop it into a full novel, or you can collect it and friends together with a spiffy cover to dress them up or… The options exist. Losing is not the end.
And for an idea on how to spice up your lonely story with no sales, perhaps a contest? Better limit the winners, though, giving out prizes to everyone could break you. Although, yes, it would be nice to know that people were reading your story. But that’s not what this is about, or you would simply have put the thing up on a blog somewhere. No, this is about winning. In order to run a semi-successful contest, you need to keep a couple of things in mind.
- Make it short
- Make it simple to enter
- Give incentives beyond the prizes
- Make it advantageous for the players to promote you
- Keep the costs in mind.
You don’t want to be running the contest for months. The one I am running currently started on Wednesday and will end on a Sunday. A few days, no more than a week, is best. Attention spans are not long, and people like instant rewards.
I set up the contest originally on facebook (see that here), where an entry would be possible with a mere comment, and a bonus entry with the click of a button. Keep it simple for people to play, or they won’t. I then set it up on my blog, too, but again, nothing more than asking people to comment, and share.
I gave a further incentive by offering a second entry to ‘the hat’ by sharing my contest posts on social media. On facebook, I can see who’s shared what. On google + you also get a notification, as with Twitter. Elsewhere, you may need to ask them for a link proving they earned it. This had the dual purpose of spreading my information and my contest further, but it gave the players a reason to do so, in that it made their chances somewhat better.
Keep the cost in mind, not just materials gifted as prizes and the shipping (if a physical item), but the time. It does take time to keep track of the entries. This time, I’m not requiring a comment on my blog to enter, but allowing some flexibility in entering on facebook, twitter, and Google +. Which means I have to keep track of all that. I’ve got a spreadsheet I enter names in, and on Sunday morning, I will use a random number generator to pick two numbers that match up to names, and voila! Winners!
If this goes well, I will do it again. Not too often, lest I bore people, and I won’t always make the prizes books. I have a beautiful chainmaille dragon perched on my desk, Inktail, and he is looking forward to finding a new home in a month or two when I run another contest (yes, I made him, so I’m biased. He’s cute).
The idea here is to boost your name recognition, your branding. You may see a small spike in sales, but more likely, you’ll just see some buzz about you. However, this is a long game. You win it when you release your next book, and the readers recognize your name, and pick it up based on the trust you have built through entertaining and amusing them already. This is also not something to do with your first book/story, unless you have an existing fanbase for some other reason. With the first, it’s best to wait a while, until you have a backlist, and then you can work on whipping up interest. Readers are voracious, they will want more. If you can give them that, then everyone wins.