Pay to Enter a Writing Contest?


There are some sneaky things going on in the writing world that you might not find sneaky. But I do. And I’m calling it out.

Writing contests. Mostly the kinds where you send in unpublished works.

It seems everyone and their mother, literally their mother, has some sort of reader’s or writer’s choice award. All you have to do is pay a small fee, say $19 to enter your manuscript or book into the contest. WHY ARE YOU PAYING MONEY TO ENTER A WRITING CONTEST? At least at the state fair you get a free fair pass in exchange for your peach pie entry fee. If it’s for charity, of course, yes yes pony up. But otherwise NO. As in NO.

What do you win? Let’s dissect a bit.

It might be bragging rights that you won a writing contest. That’s OK. It doesn’t have to be a trip to Sweden to accept the award.


Maybe it’s simple a ribbon or actual award/plaque. Fine. Still not a reason to cough up dough. Don’t tell me they are charging you to cover the cost of the actual award. Oh please.

Why would you pay money to say someone liked your unpublished story? Will it help you move forward, professionally, in some way? Really? Don’t fork over cash just to have your ego massaged. Volunteer somewhere if you feel the need for that kind of ego boost. Or I can tell you: You are a good person. You have value. Your writing is great. I think you’ll amount to something someday. Really. I believe in you. Please don’t waste your money.

Ask yourself these questions:

Are the judges experienced/qualified? Are they instantly recognizable in your field, someone you can quote in a cover letter as saying they awarded your manuscript first place, giving your manuscript instant credance?

For unpublished writers/illustrators: Are the judges available to you after the contest to bounce ideas off of, such as to ask where they suggest you go from there? Will they tell you if they think you are agent ready, if you should pursue a publishing house, and if so, which ones they think would be a good fit?

Will any sort of critique be offered in exchange for the entry fee?

Is there any reason for the entry fee, other than profit making? (I understand judges will work hard on the contest, but it’s not your job to pay them for something they agreed to do before you ever got involved.)

If the answer is no to any and especially to all of the above, really think through writing that check or hitting send on that PayPal payment.

Let’s say the prize is inclusion in a published book, or a published book. OK, the fee goes towards publishing costs. Let’s think that through a little bit too.

Will the winning piece(s) be edited? Please tell me yes. Even if the other works were from well know authors/illustrators, they should still have at least one level of edits. Personally, I wouldn’t have much pride in my work being included in a bunch of unedited entries from who knows where. Otherwise it’s like a sixth grade English project. I mean no disrespect to the other authors/illustrators at all. But to be professional, we all need a little help to be our best. A collection of works, even if published, doesn’t mean it’s professional. If it has your name on it, you want to be proud of it.

Who edits it? What is their experience? What kind of edits are they making, copy edits or formatting edits?

Who will publish the books? Where will books be sold? What is retail purchase price? How many copies are the “winners” bound to purchase? [Please note the “bound” pun. Ah, fun.]  What will the cover art look like, who format the final version, will winners get a chance to review before print, etc etc?

There are so many questions to ask!!

Sometimes smaller publishing houses charge a fee to keep entries to a minimum, so they aren’t overwhelmed with entries. Only those that are serious will apply. I get that. Why not make stricter submission rules, and those not following the right format, etc are disqualified? That way, those that do their homework (like you!) pass the first round, and those that blanket the world with any contest they see are immediately tossed in the circular file.

I think self published authors/illustrators and those from smaller presses are most “at risk” here, because they think they have the most to gain by entering contests. But PLEASE my friends, think it through. Make sure the end results will justify the upfront cost. Just because it’s under twenty bucks doesn’t make it right.

This is from a continued rant I’ve already made, where someone will contact you out of the blue about one of your books they’ve seen on your website. “You’ll have a good chance of winning,” the email will say, since they’ve seen your book and it has such promise. You should enter your books into their esteemed contest!  Then, once you’ve won the award, since you’re a shoo-in, you’ll have the grand opportunity of paying them about $250+ for the right to place their sticker on all your books and in all your marketing materials… So basically, you have financed your own award. A friend of mine “won” one of the supposed “awards” and had a link to the company website…where there were no less that SEVEN typos on their fancy announcement page. It made the award look bad, the company that created the award look bad; but it made the author look even worse. To me, useless awards pull down the writing industry as a whole. And we all deserve better.

Are we that desperate for recognition?


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I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Who Are You Writing For? Age Range Matters.

Here’s a typical conversation at a social gathering, grocery store, or school fundraiser:

jerk photo: jerk Seinfeld_Jerk_Store_Black_Shirt.jpg“Oh, you write children’s books? I’ve always wanted to do that. I’ve got an idea I always wanted to try.”

Then they hold eye contact, waiting for me to ask them what it’s about.  I smile and leave the silence for just a teeny bit longer than a normal conversation would have because I’m a jerk.

Then I finally ask “What kind of book?”

Usually they’re taken aback because it’s not what they expected to be asked. They say something like “to teach kids about fire safety” or “it’s about the first day of school.”

I say, “No, what I meant is, is it a picture book? A Young adult?”

“It’s for kids,” they’ll say.

“But which kids?”

“All kinds of kids.”

I’m not getting through. I take a deep breath. “Let me ask this way: Who is your reader? What age?”

Continue reading

Revision: Taking A Step Back


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Have you ever been asked to read a friend’s manuscript, and, well, their work was borderline horrible? But that friend is so clueless that he/she thinks it’s PERFECT and is honestly thinks a movie deal will be offered any day now?

Well I’ve been that friend. My first drafts were horrible. In fact, I didn’t even know they were drafts. I thought I had a final product. And I thought I had a GOOD final product.

After the first pieces of feedback, I got busy rewording a few things here and there, changed a description or two. What I didn’t realize is I was waaaay off the mark in what needed to be fixed. It wasn’t a matter of copy edits. It was the story overall needed some attention. “Revision” was something that needed to sit tight while bigger issues were figured out.

Here’s what I wish helpful folks would have told me:

Dear Bitsy,

Thank you for the chance to review your manuscript. It’s a charming concept with some wonderful moments. But it needs a bit of work.

A book is a story, a destination. HOW you tell the story is almost more important than WHAT the story is. Both need to be solid.

A simple question to ask yourself is: My books is about _______ but underneath it’s about ________. Wanting to dance, for example, is really a story about wanting to find a partner, or wanting to belong. Knowing what your character wants is what your story is about. Continue reading

8 Writing Tips in 8 Minutes: Bitsy’s tips for the newbie picture book writer

Are you one of the over 200 peeps headed to the SCBWI CA North/Central 2015 Spring Spirit writer’s conference? (wow, that was a mouthful) Are you looking for some beginner’s tip? Take a look here…”8 Writers Tips for Beginner Picture Book Writers” (uh,yeah, that was a mouthful too…don’t that that sway you on my mad writing skillz)


Hope to see you Saturday!

Current Status of Children’s Book Market, according to SCBWI NY 2015

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Ah, so much went on at the international conference that I’m still basking in the fruitfulness. I’m pretty sure that’s not an expression, but you know what I mean. I’ve tweeted out much of the greatness. I’ve culled some more juicy tidbits to share, in random order:

1. Webinars are popular and great for those farther away from the masses. Expect to see more.

2. Webinars are NOT a replacement of in-person conferences, workshops, or gatherings. They are in addition to them. Nothing beats face to face contact.

3. Editors and agents find/book authors and illustrators at conferences, people they wouldn’t otherwise hear from. Repeatedly. Attend roundtables, submit your work for critique. The additional cost is worth it.

4.  With the field so crowded, editors and agents are looking for something that “blows them away.” Really good no longer cuts it.

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5. There’s no award for speed in this industry. Give your work the time it deserves.

6. Hardcovers, after a bit of a slump, are on the rise!

7. Picture books are getting shorter, funnier…”an economy of text.”

and, my favorite takeaway from the enter conference:

8. “The importance of what we’re doing will never go away”

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Thoughts? Comments? Bring ’em.

SCBWI Conference in NY, Feb 2015

logo-scbwiI’m attending the annual, (inter)national children’s book conference with SCBWI. I’m also taking over as the Regional Advisor (R.A.) for the Northern CA/Central region of SCBWI, which encompasses about 400 members in 33 counties (not sure if I want you to applaud or pity me, haha). Lately I’ve heard a bunch of beginner writer questions. I’m re-posting a Q&A-type video I made a little while ago, and hopefully it’ll help answer questions you didn’t even think to ask.

Click the video on the blog post below.

Did I leave anything out? Do you have more Qs that need As? I’m working on a follow-up video and want to be sure to cover your next round of questions–so please, let me know!.

8 Writing Tips in 8 Minutes: Bitsy’s tips for the newbie picture book writer


As I’m headed to the (inter)national children’s book conference with SCBWI, I’ve had a few beginner questions about how to get started. Hopefully this video is as helpful now as it was when I first posted it.

Originally posted on Bitsy Kemper:

Thinking of writing a children’s book? Have you written one but not sure what to do with it? Well a-looky here, I’ve got some slick tips for you, dear beginner. It’ll be the best eight minutes of your day! (Unless you won the lottery, in which case may I say how beautiful you look today?)

Feel free to share the video on your own blog or website. Just please give a link back to me here, okay? Thanks, doll.

If you have tips or tricks that you’d like to share with fellow newbies, please let me know! You may be featured in a future video :-)

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