There are many contests available for writers, both published and unpublished. For the unpublished, it is a good way to get your work in front of editors and agents in a competitive market. Contest wins also look good when submitting to an agent or editor. For the published, contest wins and finaling are ways to show your readers that others have enjoyed the book. They will attract a new audience that might not have tried you without those badges of honor.
Because there are so many contests, you can easily lose track of which books you've submitted to which contests. So let's talk about how to organize this information. You will need to keep track of things that need to be done, and tasks you have completed. Each step will require tracking in both areas.
1. First, decide the best vehicle for keeping track of your submissions. This might be a spread sheet, a database file, or an old-fashioned notebook. Everyone is different. Some may prefer electronic records that they can access from a variety of devices, while others prefer a hard copy that is portable and easily accessed.
2. Second, create a master template for recording the information. For each contest entered, record the name of the contest, the material submitted, the contest fee, the contact name/email, the date submissions are due, the date you submitted your materials, postage paid (if sent via snail mail), the dates the finalists and winners are announced, how you fared in each contest, and the date you thanked the judges. Keep a separate spread sheet for each work or work in progress.
3. Record information into the spread sheet as it occurs--dates you sent in submissions, dates you heard back, etc..
4. If you are sending a submission via the post, pre-print your SAS postcards with "Your submission, (Title of Book), was received by (Name of Contest) on (Blank line for date). Then place a label with your name and address on the stamped side.
5. For tasks that require action, write yourself reminders in your calendar, or in an electronic notebook such as Evernote (evernote.com) or Springpad (springpad.com). Both these services are free.
6. Set a reminder for yourself in your calendar for every finalist/winner announcement date. If the date goes by without hearing anything, check with the contest coordinator as to the status of your entry.
7. After a contest entry is returned, carefully review the entries for feedback. Look at the scores and comments. As Harlequin Historical author Blythe Gifford suggests, "Take what is useful and discard the rest." Incorporate any useful feedback into your project.
8. Send thank-you notes to the judges for volunteering their time. This should be done regardless of whether you agree with the comments.
9. Keep all expense reports (postage, copying, etc.) for tax purposes.
10. Review your data once your book has made the rounds with these contests. Was the result worth the investment? Did you receive back helpful comments? Would you enter this contest again? Make a note of it for your next book.