It's what isn't there

Dear Miss Snark,

I am intrigued by a new-ish book contest--The Parthenon Prize--that advertised in Poets & Writers Magazine. The judge is Tony Earley, a respected writer of literary fiction. The prize is $8,000, which I think is about the biggest out there, contest-wise, except for the Drue Heinz. The rules seem quite kosher, with an emphasis on ethics. But the publisher is a print-on-demand press, and I'd really like to know how you feel about that, considering everything else the contest has going for it.

Here's the link

I'd be grateful if you'd look at it, because everything else about it looks so RIGHT.

I'm otherwise entering contests that publish through university presses, from the Flannery O'Connor Prize to the Ohio State U Prize to the Prairie Schooner Brook Prize to the Sarabande/Mary McCarthy Prize...well, there are probably about a dozen of great repute (and smallish prize money). Honestly, I think I'd rather have $1000 and decent or even smallish distribution than $8000 and none. But I'd truly value your opinion here, Miss Snark. My gratitude, in advance.

They have a spiffy website don't they, very pretty. And I love Tony Earley's books, particularly Jim the Boy.

The problem isn't that they print using POD, it's that they don't have a way to get books into actual stores and libraries as far as I can tell from their (very spiffy) website. Their books are available on Amazon and the other places that list pretty much everything available from Books in Print but there's no mention of a wholesaler, or a distributor, and more telling, there's no link on their site for bookstores to buy direct from them.

If you win this contest, you can certainly use it to get attention for your book, but you'll be doing all the heavy lifting for pr and marketing if you actually want to sell books.

This isn't the crock of shit that Sobol was but it's not a contest I'd steer people to.


Anonymous said...

I don't bother with contests as a rule, but the web site IS "spiffy" and the titles look interesting. I don't see how it can hurt to enter. I don't know if this will help you or not, but I actually entered the gather.com thing with a new novel that's highly commercial just to get some feedback (expecting brutal, vicious comments) and I was very surprised at what I learned. It was very "objective" feedback, instead of the "subjective" garbage writers are used to getting. I liked reading "I'd buy this" rather than "not right for me" for change.

Anonymous said...

i'm glad to see this contest looks kosher. it would be quite disturbing to find that milk and meat were being mixed.

Anonymous said...

yes, the problem isn't that the use POD instead of offset. The problem, on which i'm quite shocked miss snark didn't pick up, is that this so-called publishing company will publish anybody's work for a fee, i.e., a vanity press. whenever i get queries that reference any vanity press or publishamerica (which, despite what snarkites will want to argue, is vanity in any professional's eyes), i promptly delete them. winning this quote-unquote contest would be more accurately described as losing. losing credibility.

Aubadicus said...


From their FAQ:

"You will receive access to the widest book distribution network in the world. Your book, upon completion, will be available by order through most traditional "brick and mortar" bookstores through the Ingram distribution network and is listed with online booksellers such as amazon.com, booksamillion.com and barnesandnoble.com, as well as being put in our own e-commerce catalog. It will also be listed with Books In Print."

So basically they don't have distribution (except through Ingram) for their vanity/POD projects. On the other hand, it looks like they're trying to break into the traditional (non-vanity) publishing market with this contest, as I surmise from the prize description -- "Prize: $8,000 and Publication under a standard traditional book contract".

Unfortunately (for them) they haven't made the distinction very clearly, and it still smells like vanity publishing. It is entirely possible (probable) that the winner of the contest will still have to do all the heavy lifting (including getting his/her books into bookstores). Still, $8K is more than 99.9% of authors will get for their first book in total, so it's kind of a no-lose situation, innit?

Anonymous said...

Contests can lead to publication. The rule of thumb is: keep your eye on the prize. It's not about the money, it's about who the final judges are. What you aim for is to become a finalist that will land you on the desk of a major NY publishing house. Don't confuse this with: if you win, we'll submit it to a major NY house. You're looking for: The finalists will be judged by top NY editors from houses X,Y and Z.

I know several authors who got their start this way. I got my start this way, and I'm on my sixth book with HarperCollins. They bought the first based on that contest--and I didn't even win! All that mattered was that it showed up on their desk, they read it, decided it would fit in their line, and called me. I don't even write in that same genre anymore, but they are still my publisher. The point is that it opened the doors for me, cut through the agent and slushpile lines and landed me on the desks of five top editors, one of which called me to see the book.

So, enter contests at your own risks, but pay attention to the prize. Make sure the source of the contest is legit (usually one held in concert with a major writer's organization, or a major publisher. Contests via agents/agencies are rare, and Miss Snark would no doubt be able to advise on any being legit--if they exist.) Make sure that the entry fees aren't exorbitant. 25-50 bucks isn't unreasonable, as long as the contest is legit.

Just don't become a contest junkie. Too many writers fall into the trap of entering, shelling out money, honing the first three chapters and synopsis to the detriment of the remainder of the book or their careers. They never get beyond that.

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad these questions are showing up and that I have the opportunity to clarify. I am the director of The Parthenon Prize for Fiction and have been in on most of the planning from the very start. I am a writer, a published and award-winning poet, and am very invested in coordinating a reputable and longstanding competition that will be a jewel for the Nashville community and a respected contest to writers across the US and beyond. As this is our first year, we are certainly learning along the way. I have gotten wonderful consultation and guidance from a number of contest directors, but have been most tutored by the adminitrators of the Peter Taylor Prize for the Novel, another Tennessee book prize with a respected history.

As a writer I am very concerned about protecting authors' rights and reputations, including my own and that of our judge, Tony Earley. At the recent AWP conference in Atlanta I attended workshops on both ethics and literary contract negotiations in order to adress these very issues and assure that The Parthenon Prize establishes itself as a valid and esteemed contest.

Cold Tree Press has been operating as a P.O.D. publisher for over five years. When first in business, president Peter Honsberger may have published most manuscripts he recieved; now, however, he has grown the business and become more and more discerning in his projects. Cold Tree is not a vanity press; it does not publish everything submitted, and their reputaion has grown in our community as a fair and responsible business, producing lovely books.

This contest opens a new door for Cold Tree. The winning manuscript will be published as Cold Tree launches its new arm of Traditional Publishing. The operating funds and prize money for The Parthenon Prize for Fiction are donated by an individual philanthropist in Nashville who is not in business with Cold Tree, but who believes in their mission, sees it as a reputable growing company, and wants to see this small Nashville company succeed.

Mr. Honsberger of Cold Tree has assured us that the contract offered the winning author of The Parthenon Prize will include a promotions package as well as distribution through Ingram. All unknown writers should expect to have to do a great deal of readings, self promotion, and "hoofing it" to get their book noticed. Cold Tree has committed, however, to working diligently with the writer to give the book the best reception possible.

I hope this may alleviate some of the concerns of your commentors. There are a few days left to submit to the competition; postmark deadline is April 30. Contest guidelines can be found at www.parthenonprize.org. I have a feeling we're goinig to make one talented writer very happy come Fall 2007 when we announce the winner. Best wishes.

Kelly Falzone, contest director
The Parthenon Prize for Fiction 2007