Friday, August 21, 2009

Submitting to Book Awards

The Benefits of Book Awards

An author friend submitted his book to be considered for an award. Although he didn't win, he was nominated for an award, giving him the right to put a sticker on his book saying something like: "Nominated for Georgia Author of the Year." He says that this sticker really helps him with sales.

For low platform authors who aren't household names, we need all the help we can get. So why not pursue honors, awards and blurbs that tell buyers, "This book is special!"? Authors who win awards can say to a bookseller, "This award-winning book..." which sets it apart from most competing books.

Additionally, winning books are often displayed at ceremonies, given special promotion. Distributors and booksellers may take notice, and finalists and winners often receive cash awards.

So I took a couple of hours to hit the library and peruse the 2009 editions of both Literary Market Place (LMP) and Writers Market, both of which have sections listing book awards. (There's also a section of the Christian Writers Market dedicated to contests.) Don't be overwhelmed by the huge number of awards. You can narrow down pretty quickly which ones apply to your book.

Update on "Benefits," 2/10/10: In November, my book won the "Personal Finance" category for the Best Books award! I ordered a set of gold stars, which paste nicely on my cover. I sent out a free press release, one of which was to an organization that targets press releases to libraries. It may have been this release which caused libraries to start placing orders with a quality book distributor, who contacted me requesting a contract. They're starting to market my book to libraries and make regular sales. Another experience: Last month, I took my book to an independent bookstore to see if they would carry it. Her first reaction was to look at the award sticker and say, "This helps."

Do My Odds of Winning Make It a Worthwhile Gamble?

Your odds are better than you might first think. First of all, you're seldom in competition with best-selling authors. They apparently don't feel the need to compete and big-time publishers focus their marketing efforts on their best selling authors when the book first comes out - not a year later when contest winners are announced.

Let's estimate the odds of winning an award from "
the largest independent book awards contest in the world" - The Independent Publisher Book Awards. They claimed to have 4,000 entries in 2009. Having so many entries, I assume that it's one of my longest shots for winning. But those entries are divided into 67 categories, narrowing down my competition to an average of 60 books per category. But each category offers three awards, thus narrowing down my competition to an average of 20 books.

Now if you're in a specialized category, like "multicultural nonfiction adult", isn't it entirely possible that I'll find myself competing with five other books, three of which are titled "How to Get Rich on the Internet," written in broken English by telephone company support personnel in third world countries?

My conclusion: If I've written a good book that's well-edited and designed, these are good enough odds to pursue.

Caution: There will be much more competition in the broader categories. But the good news is that a first, second, or third place in one of these categories says a lot about the quality of your book. In a February, 2010 letter from The Independent Publisher Book Awards:

"It looks like this year’s entry numbers are similar to last year’s, when we reached 4,000 total entries for the first time. That means the competition is very tough and the judging will be even tougher. Last year we had nine categories with over 100 entries each, and eleven more with over 70 entries each! I feel these large numbers bring credibility to the Awards, and that the more entries we have per category, the more valuable each award becomes."

Narrowing Down Appropriate Contests

Side note: according to Writers Market, contests come and go pretty quickly. Make sure the award still exists before sending your book. New contests are announced regularly in writers publications. These may not be prestigious, but your book would probably have less competition. And does the average book-buyer know a prestigious contest from a non-prestigious one?

My book is a nonfiction personal finance book written in a story form, published by a small publisher, targeting people 16-32 years old. So I can ignore all awards that:

1) Don't accept submissions. (Some contests do their own searching.)
2) Only accept submissions from Canada or Ohio or people born in Texas.
3) Cater to big-name authors and big publishers. (See the winners of past years.)
4) Take only fiction or poetry or books about orchids (yes, there is one like that).
5) Accept only non-published manuscripts.

Here's my narrowed down list, with stars by the organizations I'm pursuing:

* Foreword Magazine Book of the Year - - 61 Categories. "ForeWord is the only review trade journal devoted exclusively to books from independent houses." Foreword is respected by libraries, distributors and booksellers. With 61 categories, first, second and third places in each category, plus an announcement of finalists, there's a decent chance to get some recognition. Even to say your book was "a finalist in the Foreword Book of the Year Awards" could be a huge boost. Jan. 15, 2010 deadline. $75 entry fee per title, per category.

* Benjamin Franklin Awards - - Sponsored by "the largest non-profit trade association representing independent publishers": The Independent Book Publishers Association. 54 categories. "Regarded as one of the highest national honors in small and independent book publishing." Deadlines: Sept. 30 for books published through August; Dec. 31 for rest of books published in 2009. $80 entrance fee for IBPA members. $180 for non-members, which includes a membership. (Good contest, but I'm too cheap to fork out $180.)

* Eric Hoffer Award for Independent Books - - Fifteen categories. "Each category will be awarded a winner, runner-up, and multiple honorable mentions." Deadline: Jan. 21, 2010. $45 entrance fee.

* The Independent Publisher Book Awards (67 categories) - - "Gold, silver and bronze medals will be awarded in each category." Over 4,000 entries ... "the largest independent book awards contest in the world." $85 entry fee per category. Discounts for earlier submission. Deadline: March 20, 2010.

* Nautilus Award - - "Recognizing Books...that Promote Spiritual Growth, Conscious Living, and Positive Social Change as they stimulate the 'imagination' and inspire the reader to "new possibilities" for a better world." 28 categories. Submit August 2009 to Jan. 15, 2010. $165 entrance fee, but discounts for submitting earlier (e.g., $145 before Oct. 16).

* Best Business Books - - Each book will be judged on the originality of its ideas and content. Eleven categories, October 15 deadline. Submit two copies. No entrance fee. (Update: I didn't win or place.)

*Mom's Choice Awards - - Deadline of Oct. 1, 2009. $300 per book, per category. Benefits: book reviews, special promotions, etc. Over 100 categories.

*Best Books Awards - - $69 per book, per category. Deadline: Sept. 30, 2009. 100+ categories. Benefits: special promotions. Update: I won the personal finance division!

*National Indie Excellence Awards - - 100+ categories, $65 per book, per category. March 31, 2010 deadline. Benefits: promotions, etc.

The Writer's Digest International Self-Published Book Awards -

Michael L. Printz Award
- - "an award for a book that exemplifies literary excellence in young adult literature." "sponsored by Booklist, a publication of the American Library Association. Actually, this is one of many awards for young adult literature. See the rest of the awards here: . Hurdle: Most of these awards require submission by someone other than the author/publisher/editor, e.g., a librarian. But if libraries are raving about your book, see if a librarian will submit it for you. Note also their category for Outstanding Books for the College Bound.

The Christopher Awards - - No charge for submission, but few categories (less chances to win) and winners seems to come from big presses.

Patterson Prize for Books for Young People -

What Next?

At this point, I'll go to each site and gather more information to help me prioritize. I'll ask questions like,
  • How much do they charge? (I don't have an unlimited budget!)
  • What are my odds of winning or getting at least getting a nomination?
  • Do they subdivide into categories, or is it me against hundreds of others for one or two big prizes?
  • How prestigious is the award?
I'll also want to see if there are smaller awards, open only to people in my region or to books on personal finance. Not all contests are listed in the publications I consulted.

Important: I had falsely assumed that all awards would be for books published in the previous calendar year, thus having deadlines of a couple of months into the next year following publication. But some work on different schedules. Check each contest to find their schedule.

Any other ideas or personal experiences with seeking book awards? If you won one or were nominated for one, did it help you with sales?

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