Last week Reader Views announced the 2007 winners of its annual literary awards. The Reader Views award contest is open only to writers who self-publish or have their books published by a small press or independent book publisher. Work published by major book publishers, their subsidiaries, or their imprints are not eligible. This seems more than fair, given that there are so many award contests that are not open to those of us whose books are self-published, subsidy-published, or published by small, indie publishers.
But does an award set up for the likes of us mean anything?
I was unpleasantly surprised when one of the list gurus on a self-publishing discussion group I belong to posted a comment calling the Reader Views Awards a Special Olympics for subsidy-published books—based on the fact that none of the award winners were books published by large publishers, which the poster took to mean the contest hadn’t attracted any real competition. (Since books from major publishers are not eligible to enter the contest, it’s not surprising that no winners were from major publishers.) This post went on to criticize the contest for having too many award categories and too many winners, and dubbed it primarily a money-maker for the sponsor because it charges an entry fee. The post concluded that the award is hardly of the quality of a Pulitzer Prize or National Book Award (duh!) and that being the "best of the worst" is hardly impressive.
I am familiar with this view of book awards that are open to non-major-published authors like me. Last year my novel, Too Near The Edge, won an IPPY award, which I discovered is also considered second-rate when I tried to use it to get “author status” at the Left Coast Crime (LLC) Convention. The LLC does not give author status to authors whose books are self-published, but the conference website said they would consider making exceptions for authors whose books had been shortlisted for certain mystery awards. Even though the IPPY wasn’t on their list of awards, I wrote them a very polite email asking if it would qualify me to be an author at their conference. They replied that I didn't meet the eligibility requirements and that awards like the IPPY are not on the list, "since they are primarily awarded to authors from non-traditional publishing houses."
Given these attitudes, is it worth sending off our books and entry fees to competitions designed to honor the best among self-published books or those published by small, independent presses? Some of these, in addition to the Reader Views and the IPPYs are the Benjamin Franklin Awards, the Writers Digest International Self-Published Book Awards, the ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Awards, and the National Indie Excellence Awards. All of these award contests have entry fees and multiple categories for entrants.
Yes. In my opinion the awards have meaning. For me the IPPY was an acknowledgment that a reader or readers selected to judge a book contest decided my book was of a high enough level of quality to win an award. And, although the contest had many categories, it also had thousands of entries, most of which did not win. I don’t know the statistics for these other contests, but it seems likely that there are more losers than winners, and that awards are only given to books that meet certain criteria.
The IPPY didn’t help me get media attention, despite the efforts of a local publicist, nor did it get me new reviews. But it did help me get my book into local independent bookstores, where I believe the award stickers give it credibility that leads to sales. And it helped my friends, family, and colleagues see me as a “real” writer, despite the fact that I published my own book.
A couple of authors on another discussion list I belong to are first-place winners in this year’s Reader Views Awards. They are delighted to have their books recognized, and have received many congratulations from other authors on the list, including me.
Awards help books stand out from the pack. And most potential readers will give a book a second look if it has won an award—even if the award is a minor one.