Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Practicalities of Contest Submission

Having been a contest coordinator of published books for several years now, I am continually amazed at how much money authors spend to mail their books.  I have had books express-mailed, sent by Federal Express and UPS. I have received books sent priority mail. Many of these packages cost over $20.00 to send.  But very few authors take advantage of the media mail rate which is usually under $5.00.  

Most contests give plenty of time to submit. As far as I know there is no advantage to being the first set of books to arrive.  When books arrive at my house, they pile up on a shelf (much to my dearheart's dismay) until the deadline. Then they are piled into sets to send off to the judges.  In my case, this is about two weeks after the deadline because we aren't given the judges' names and addresses until then.  So I'm puzzled about why authors use expensive methods to ship their books.  Of course, I'm not counting those who wait until the last minute-smile. In that case, they need to send via the fastest method and that will cost them money. 

Maybe with the cost of living skyrocketing, authors will want to know how to economize on contest submission.  Media mail rate is available for any printed material. This means typed manuscripts for you writers submitting to unpublished contests.  You aren't allowed correspondence. But if you are simply shipping books or manuscripts, media rate is the way to go.  

You can check it out at www.usps.com.  click on CALCULATE POSTAGE.  In the blue toolbar on the left, click on PRICES.  Then click on MEDIA MAIL.  The minimal charge is $2.23 for one pound and goes up accordingly.  Ten pounds only costs $5.38.   The restrictions listed state:
MEDIA MAIL PRICES The service for printed and recorded material. For sending small and large packages consisting of books, film, manuscripts, sound recordings, video tapes, and computer readable media (such as CDs, DVD, and diskettes). Price based on weight.

The Post Office claims media rate can take up to two weeks, but when I receive media rate packages, out of curiosity, I check the dates. In most cases, the media rates arrive in the same amount of time as the priority mail packages.  Most arrive within two-five days, depending upon where they are from. 

Some may be concerned about reliability of delivery.  In all the years I have been handling books in the mail, only one package was ever lost. It was a contest submission sent by a publisher and sent priority mail. I believe they must have made a mistake on the address.  At any rate, if you do have that concern, for $.65 you can put a delivery confirmation sticker on the package. Postal workers take extra care with those and you will know by checking online that your package arrived safely. 

So contest junkies, I hope this little tidbit of information helps cut the cost of contest submission.  Best wishes and keep on submitting. 


  1. Sandra, what sage advice. My boss used to say, "If you save the pennies, the dollars will come." Frugality has its upside, doesn't it?

    I bet the biggest problem is that authors just don't get to it until the last minute. Like the rest of us, time is of the essence but in this case it's costing them money.

    I bet there are lots of good tidbits of info we could share to help cut costs since we're all feeling the crunch of family/school/gas/car repairs, etc.

    And, to highlight a frugal morning, let's indulge in something simple and amazing. In honor of Janet's upcoming release of Courting Miss Adelaide, let's have hot biscuits and honey with fresh-churned butter.

    Janet, what a lovely book that is. Strong writing, great characters and a firm story arc. Nice job, kid.

    Cappuccino/coffee service is set up to the left of the biscuit baskets. We'll keep the baskets warm and filled throughout the day. Imagine the whole loaves and fishes thing.



  2. The bookstore associated with the small school where I worked used media mail. Books were lost on more than one occasions. Whether due to an error on our part, I don't know. The problem with media mail is that you cannot track the package--USPS's tracking and confirmation services cannot be purchased with media mail.

    If you are entering your book in a contest for fun, definitely go with media mail, but if your hopes are riding on the contest and you can afford the extra cost (and the price of gas needed to drive to the post office), for peace of mind's sake, choose a shipping method that will allow you to track your package or confirm its delivery.

    Hot buttered biscuits? Delicious. Please point me to the basket.

  3. Hahahahahahaha, Ruth is right.

    Money, money, money money.

    Give me those online contest!!

    Not only makes entering easier but writing thank you notes.

  4. Ruthy, Thanks for the basket of biscuits. I just picked up the most delicious peaches from the Farmer's Market so if anyone wants to add some fruit.

    I am frugal in most cases, but when it comes to coffee, I spoil myself with Millstone's chocolate velvet. Its perking now.

    I bet we could come up with lots of ways to save. How about recycling manuscript paper? I use the back side for critique partners. Any other ideas out there?

  5. Hi Anonymous, (Wow you're making me spell at this early hour) You can track media mail. You can apply a confirmation sticker with a tracking number. It costs $.65. I do it all the time at the post office on media mail packages. Maybe your postal clerk isn't aware of this.

    Having worked in schools myself, I would be more inclined to believe the problem lies with their addressing system than the post office. Yikes, its too early to be snidy, but that's my experience. We each have our own sets of circumstances. If you aren't comfortable with media mail then by all means don't use it. I think the whole mail system is pretty awesome. It amazes me how proficient it is.

  6. Tina, Online submissions are wonderful. They really do save, not only on postage, but paper as well. I imagine we will be seeing more contests submitting online. I've certainly seen more publishers accepting submissions online.

    However, I don't see how that will help the published authors enter their contests. You need to send the whole book. And they do weigh pounds.

    Good to see you're up early. I'm camping so have to use the stovetop perculator. Its way to slow. But the smell is yummy.

  7. Gosh, Sandra, I wish I'd read this blog for all those contests I entered way back then -- could've saved a bundle! Thanks for this basic common sense and wisdom ... perfect for those writers who are just embarking on the contest circuit ... and great for veterans too, who use Media Mail but don't know squat about it except that it's cheaper. Great post, my friend!

  8. I didn't even know you could send manuscripts by media mail! I normally send everything the normal, first class rate, but so many contests for unpubbies like me make you send it Priority Mail. It gets pretty expensive, especially when you enter as many as I did this past spring. Sheesh. Nevermore.

    I think the postal service is pretty awesome, too. Amazingly efficient and inexpensive, all things considered.

  9. Are there really a lot of contests still using paper?

    I find that stunning when email is so slick and cheap and free.

    I use media mail all the time mailing my books. Although for the average postage, the first class mail rate is only pennies more than media mail. So sometimes, if I'm just a bit worried about a book arriving, I will use first class postage. I thought that might move faster but Maybe Not if Sandra sez so.

  10. AND I just finished Courting Miss ADelaide, too.
    Janet, I kept wishing I'd read it with a pen. I remember doing this with all the Seeker's books. Underline great lines and email you and say, "This is genius."

    Or more accurately, "I am soooooo stealing this line." :)

  11. Dear Sandra,

    I do not consider wonderful news to be snidy. Thank you for the update. I must speak with someone at USPS-one of their representatives provided us with incorrect information.

    There is now no reason to spend excess money on submitting a book to a contest. Unless one is looking for a chance to say, "I FedExed my book today...."?

  12. Hi Julie, Thanks for joining us. Now that you have those terrific published books, you might want to enter them into reader's choice contests. Check into the media mail to send those as your books are plump. They're excellent reads by the way. A Passion Most Pure is a must for you historical buffs.

  13. Hi Melanie, Yes, manuscripts can be sent media mail. Be sure and get the confirmation so you're sure it arrived. I don't know why some contests insist on priority. Maybe their coordinators work for the postal system.

  14. Thanks Anonymous (wow I wish I didn't have to look up the spelling for this every time-you'd think I'd learn) Anyway glad to have helped out. And I guess there are those who like to say they Fed Exxed. Maybe they have a business account with them. If you do a lot of shipping it pays to check out all options. I know that Fed Ex offers great deals when dealing with large quantities. Hopefully we'll all be in that boat.

    I just saw a historical on the history channel that showed how Amazon.com started. Can you imagine shipping that many books. whew. We can dream can't we?????

    Good morning Mary.

  15. Hi Mary, Yes, there are still those who want paper. And you would be shipping books out for reader's choice contests. Petticoat Ranch has already finalled. Its a great read and I would guess be a winner. Calico Canyon will be next to place-smile Keep up that terrific writing Miss Mary.

  16. Didya all see Tina laugh because she was FORCED to use the phrase 'Ruth is right'....

    Man, they hate to admit that, don't they? Sheesh.

    And I've brought fresh biscuits for y'all, and a new jar of meadow honey, absolutely wonderful variety. Cloverish with a hint of wildflower.

    Sweet tea on the veranda. It's shady there but we can still take a dip in the straight separating Unpub Island from the mainland beach.

    I've noticed a slight narrowing at the northen tip of the straight...

    Could that mean we have unpubbed residents getting closer?

    That would be awesome.

    Hey, Sandra, can you put out a plate of real Southwest sandwiches for our friends here? And I'll supply some of that layered taco chip dip that's all the rage these days.


  17. Ruthy, I'm heading out to Jason's for lunch on the deck overlooking Lake Tahoe. Now their specialty is gourmet hamburgers with anything and everything on them. My favorite are those smothered with sour cream, mushrooms, black olives and swiss cheese. Yum.

    They do have scrumptious salads too that are big enough to serve an army. I love those with Pacific shrimp.

    Now I think I'm understanding why I can't get these extra pounds off. yikes. But hey, you have to respect vacation time. We're doing our part to help the economy. smile

    Talk to you again in a couple hours. Happy writing all of you.

  18. Ruthy...love that frugalities quote!!!

    Great post, Sandra! Especially with the economy at the moment. Hopefully things will look up soon.

    Contests can be an alternative to the cost of subbing a ton of work to publishers before the work is ready. Hopefully the feedback you get is worth the entry fee alone. LOL!



  19. Sandra -- Plump, eh? Well at least you were talking about my book and not my behind! :)

    Thanks for the plug, sweetie!


  20. Sandra,

    I've noticed the same thing--media mail doesn't take much longer at all! I use it whenever I can.

    Can you actually use delivery confirmation on media mail, though? I was thinking you can't. I'll have to check it out.

    I just mailed off my revised manuscript this morning!! Yippee!! Anyway, it's due Friday. And I was a little paranoid about the mail. So I checked the difference between Priority and Express mail. About $10 priority (supposed to arrive Thursday or Friday), and over $30 for express mail!! I took the chance on Priority and used delivery confirmation. :)

    Ruthy, I'm only having Diet Dr. Pepper today. I've got to lose weight (gained while my foot was broken) before National so I can wear the new blouse comfortably! ;)


  21. Okay, folks, let me tell you the REAL reason we put off sending in those contest entries until the very last day and then have to FedEx them. It's because we are SO CERTAIN the phone will ring any moment with a contract offer that will make us INELIGIBLE!!!

    Okay, where did Cap'n Jack go. Ruthy, did you give him the day off?

  22. Good point Cheryl, the contests are a great testing ground before you spend time and money sending to the editors--not to mention saving your reputation. I still shudder when I think of some of my first submissions sent before rwa or acfw.

  23. I HAVE used media mail before - and there has been the occasional time it has taken a week or so. It really depends on where it's going to and from. Obviously, the further away the two locations are, the longer it will take - but this is WONDERFUL advice. Any way to save money is a bonus in my book!

  24. Hi Missy, The confirmation stickers are bright chartreuse green and they can go on media mail--I have sent them. In fact the book GOD'S SPIRIT WITHIN ME that I sent the Seekers went media and with confirmation stickers. I'm trusting you all received them as I didn't go online and check. yikes.

  25. Good point Myra. But then you miss the fun of calling and saying "Oh so sorry, my manuscript is disqualified because I SOLD."

    Janet knows all about that don't you Janet? Was it Courting Miss Adelaide that was disqualified from the Genesis because you sold??

  26. Hi Joanne, I'm for saving money any time and if there is no rush, so what if it takes a day or two longer. I've noticed that priority mail takes longer too depending upon where you are. For example, when we're out camping and the mail comes by mule, even priority takes two or three days longer.

    Thanks for joining us and have fun sending out all that great writing.

  27. Okay Ruthy, I brought back hamburgers with avacado and bacon and "southwest" salsa. So help yourself. But you're really going to have to resist the beer batter french fries. My my they were tooooooo yummy. I did save some for you all but I didn't really want to.

  28. Okay Ruthy, I brought back hamburgers with avacado and bacon and "southwest" salsa. So help yourself. But you're really going to have to resist the beer batter french fries. My my they were tooooooo yummy. I did save some for you all but I didn't really want to.

  29. Media mail is wonderful.
    Blessings from Costa Rica

  30. Buenos dias kathie, All the way from Costa Rica. Are you in the military that you can use US media mail? Its always good to find helpful hints for international mail and submissions. If you have any helpful hints please share. Gracias.

  31. Media mail to overseas isn't the best idea. it takes up to 3 months and some never seem to arrive. but I wish we had it for local mail here.

  32. I've been away from Seekerville for a few days. Catching up on posts, I saw Ruthy's sweet praise of Courting Miss Adelaide. And Mary's kind words about my debut.
    Thanks kiddos! I'm bummed I missed the biscuits and honey!

    Great advice on media mail, Sandra! I mailed books first class recently. In a hurry for no good reason. Though for one small paperback the savings may be minimal. Still a penny saved...

    Actually, Sandra, another book was disqualified in the Genesis because I sold Courting Miss Adelaide between the time I entered and the conference.

    Ah, Lake Tahoe, an absolutely gorgeous spot! Wish I could've had lunch with you, Sandra!!!!