Am I missing something here?

I ran across this story today.  To summarize, a bookclub is hosting a contest for original novels written by UK authors, with the winner to be awarded a publishing contract with Quercus Publishing.

Now, I am not eligible in any event, since I don’t live in the UK and also because I am already (self-)published.  The contest is only open to authors who have not previously been published.  But that’s not important.

What I am wondering is why are they calling this a “contest”?

If you strip away the hyperbole, what is going on is that a publishing company is accepting submissions for novels and will publish the best novel that they receive.

Excuse me, but isn’t that what publishing companies do?  I mean, that’s their job, right?  This is kind of like an electrician hosting an event where you give him money and he fixes your wiring and calling it a contest.  That’s not a contest, that’s just business as usual.

Okay, I get that there is the whole celebrity book club folks promoting the submission process part, but again, that’s not the issue.

There’s the figure of Fifty Thousand Pounds being thrown around a lot in the press release, but it’s not clear if that means that’s the advance (which is excessive for a first time author and hard to believe) or the estimated cost of producing the book, including advance, print run,  and promotion (which seems to me to be about right, although I’m not up on UK pricing.)

Again, though, isn’t that what a traditional publisher does? They front the cash and in exchange they own the rights to the book.  To go back to my analogy of the electrician, that’s kind of like announcing that his “contest” will win you the use of a $20,000 truck loaded with $10,000 worth of tools and supplies!

Has traditional publishing become so moribund that find it necessary to launch a huge marketing campaign (the cost of which is not included in that fifty grand, I’ll bet) just to get authors to submit manuscripts?  I rather doubt that.  I suspect that Quercus could just just post an announcement on their web page saying that they’re accepting submissions and be flooded with new books in no time.

Is the book club fronting the production costs? (That’s unclear from the materials I’ve read).  If so, is that really such a big deal? How many books do they list per season?  Does having one of them underwritten qualify as big news?

I don’t know–maybe it’s just that the book club owners want to play at being slush pile readers and are willing to pay for the privilege.  There are weirder fetishes out there.

The point is that submitting a book to a publisher or an agent shouldn’t be a “contest”.  It’s a business deal.

A writer is a producer of a product, not a supplicant before some altar of instant success.  Submitting a manuscript isn’t any different than submitting a bid to a general contractor.

That is the issue that I have with this “contest”.  It reinforces the Myth Of The Golden Ticket, that success as a writer means having some fairy godmother wave her magic wand and cover you with pixie dust.

I don’t think it’s like that, and I think this kind of thing gives new writers the wrong idea.  Publishing companies aren’t giving you a prize when they send you a contract, they are entering into a business relationship with someone who is going to make them money.  Publishers need authors, otherwise that splash page for Quercus Publishing would be blank.

Writing isn’t a contest, it’s a job.  It’s the job I want to have pay my bills, true, but if I get to that point it’s going to be because I worked to produce and sell a quality product.

Keep your Golden Ticket, Mr. Wonka.  I’m doing just fine selling my own candy.


About MishaBurnett

I am the author of "Catskinner's Book", a science fiction novel available on Amazon Kindle.
This entry was posted in On Promotion, On Publishing, On Writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Am I missing something here?

  1. Probably because contest sounds better and will attract people. It’s all about the mental bullshitting.

  2. I believe WHSmith is a distributor, like Ingram or Baker/Taylor. This isn’t a “book club” in the US sense, but a promo arm for WHSmith. The actual publisher is Quercus, so I’m thinking it’s a partnership of sorts, but marketing related. I think. Maybe. Don’t quote me!

  3. paws4thought says:

    Doesn’t seem much different to me than the yearly contest-thingy that Amazon runs – and certainly if its run by WHSmith, then it’s not a book club hosting it – that’s a major newstand, bookstore outlet in Britain.

  4. Dave Higgins says:

    They say one person will be offered a contract by Quercus, rather than entries that are good enough might be offered, so it is a technically a competition.

    Whether it is better or worse odds, benefits, &c. than the usual seek and agent or publisher route I am unsure.

  5. Jade Reyner says:

    This is the very same competition that I was referring to in my post. Great minds! 🙂

  6. Jade Reyner says:

    I can clarify the book club thing as I am from the UK – the couple involved are a well known TV celebrity couple over here and for years have been running their own ‘book club’ in which they read and review books over a certain period and then usually rank them. It started as an aside item when they had their own TV show. It has become so famous now that if a book has been reviewed by them, it will have a sticker on it when it is sold stating that fact and you can guarantee that it will increase the sales. I am not aware of W H Smith’s having any involvement as such, unless they choose and supply the books to the two individuals, but certainly you are led to believe that all of the books are chosen and read by the two celebrities involved. Hope that clears things up. 🙂

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