Entering contests can be time-consuming, but winning them will give you a great feeling. There are a ton of contests out there for poets, short story writers and self-published authors. If you do manage to win one of them, you can get a lot of marketing mileage out of it. And when you win, you can call yourself an "award-winning author." How fun is that?
Indie Book Awards
Indie authors can get plenty of love on the award circuit; I don't even have the room or time to post all the links to all the available contests. Start your search with some of the bigger contests, and keep up the hunt from there. Put all the links together in a single folder, and program the deadlines into your calendar so you don't miss them. The Independent Publisher Book Awards, Writer's Digest Self-Published Book Awards, the Indie Book Awards and the Indie Excellence Awards are all fairly prominent. You can find more contests at the Independent Book Publishers Association.
Short Story Awards
Many other bloggers have put together huge lists of short story awards. Find them, make use of them, and enter one of your stories into the contest. Winning a contest is a great way to promote your self-published short story collection. Some short story awards are very prestigious, but that means the competition is pretty steep. Many short story awards take published and non-published authors.
Poets who are looking to enter contests could wear themselves out. There are ton of poetry awards out there, and this brand of literature is particularly welcoming to indie and non-published writers. The Poetry Society of America sponsors a ton of different competitions. You'll find more at the Poetry Foundation and the Academy of American Poets.
Entering contests may seem like an easy way to promote your stuff, but there's a bit of a science to it. If you're going to enter contests and try to win, make sure you aren't wasting your own time. Attack your goal with a solid plan, and solid preparation.
- Don't pay. Unless you're independently wealthy, make a decision here and now not to pay entrance fees. Some contests, particularly the smaller ones, use entrance fees to cover the cost of their prizes (and, I believe, to make a few extra bucks on the side). Don't fall into the trap of paying to get read. There are plenty of free contests out there, and you need to save your money for book covers, professional editing and stuff that actually does matter.
- Get organized. Know what you're going to submit. Make separate copies of the poems, stories and books you're thinking of entering and put them in a folder. Keeping your contest entries easy to access is key; otherwise you'll be searching through files for hours. Make a list of all the contests you've entered and when, and what exactly you submitted, so you can keep track. It's a good idea to include contest deadline dates and winner announce dates (if known) on this document, so you don't waste a bunch of time checking websites.
- Follow the rules. Look over submission guidelines with extreme care; you can't spend too much time reading the instructions. Some contests are very picky about how they want their submissions formatted, and have very stiff requirements for those who enter. Make sure you follow every rule to the letter, or you absolutely won't win. People who don't follow every instruction are tossed out of contests.
- Be perfect. Look over your submission at least three times before you send it off. Letter-perfect editing and proofreading is required if you want to stand a chance in any competition. Commonly, contest winners are printed and re-published, in whole or in part. No magazine or online website is going to re-publish something that's got an error in it.
If you stay organized and keep good lists, entering contests won't take up a whole lot of your time. Winning contests can give you a lot to promote, and the award-giver will be promoting you, too. As long as you're doing it efficiently and you actually have a fair shot of winning, entering contests is a pretty good use of time and it'll help you find more resources and opportunities in your specific writing community.