Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Is Winning A Book Award A Big Deal?

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.


  1. "Nothing matters but your readers–nothing. All the rest of this glitz and blather is simply a way to reach them."Amen, Inanna!!On Ben Franklin sponsored by PMA, I had a very positive result even though my mystery did not win or place in the highly competitive mystery category. One judge loved it and as a reviewer for a newspaper, she wrote a very positive review in her paper. SO-OO, one may not win the gold but still come out on top.And, yes, only the readers matter! I am fortunate to have a large local and tourist following for my DAFFODILS series, to the point blind and physically impaired readers (who cannot hold a book) demanded that my books be added to the FL Talking Book & Braille Library (2nd largest in the WORLD, second only to Russia. The local facility is apparently a hub for similar libraries nationwide.)Well, not only are they adding my books to their collection but the Director convinced me to read them myself and be the keynote speaker for their annual meeting. (It didn't take much convincing, I was flattered beyond belief and stunned speechless by the invitation!)BTW, and this may seem catty but true, books on tape are not included in this library. Because of copyright laws, anything the Talking Book/Braille Library produce must be impossible to copy. So, their cassettes have 4 tracks per cassette, not two, and require special machines. Their catalog approaches 2 million, but does not include all the bestseller books on tape.For example, almost all of Mary Higgins Clark's books are in the library, only one of her daughter Carol's. And, not calling names, virtually NONE of the books written by the Board of SinC or MWA are in their collection. Apparently, there wasn't sufficient demand.Oh, that was catty! But Oh, SinC and MWA deserve it, IMO! You will notice that that all of the people establishing/supporting the exclusionary rules are mid-/lower list authors. MWA's President is a figurehead. I personally have not read a single book by any of the Boards' members, except Donna Andrews, whose books I liked. But, she's not in the catalog either.

  2. First, it's unfortunate isn't it that what I'm going to call "publishing snobs" continue to belittle writers who aren't published traditionally. Hopefully, someday they'll realize that the publishing world isn't what it used to be.The big firms have little or no interest in anyone who isn't equally as big a celebrity name, and the others only have so much time in a day to choose and promote a handful of books each year. Saying that if someone's work can't make it into these small circles means it isn't worthy, is an unfair, uneducated statement guru or not.As to the question of are the "unknown" contests worth entering for recognition, I agree with what was said above. It depends on who feels those awards mean something. If your target audience respects books that are on a certain winning list, it's worth it. Like with anything else, it pays to do some homework and to have a good reason for whatever you do for publicity.

  3. Award that have value, have value. Some impress readers, some impress peers, publishers or maybe agents. Yes, I am influenced by awards to buy books, but to this point not any of the awards specifically for self-published are in that group (e.g. Booker, Lambda)