With hundreds of thousands of self-published books hitting the virtual shelves every year, indie authors need to find ways of standing out. Winning one of the many book awards for self-published writers is one way.
[Note: this article was originally published in February 2015 and was updated on April 10, 2017.]
Beyond the validation of a win -- and potential prize money and constructive feedback from judges -- book awards are valuable marketing tools, according to Judith Desjardins, a self-published author who raked in 16 awards for her first self-published title, Creating a Healthy Life and Marriage: A Holistic Approach, which came out in 2010.
“Book awards are great for marketing buzz on the awards websites and through the press releases they put out about the winners, all of which is additional publicity for you,” Desjardins said. “And award stickers definitely influence the consumer at the point-of-sale.”
But with so many contests out there, how should indie authors choose which to enter?
Catherine Goulet, co-founder of the Next Generation Indie Book Awards, organized by the Independent Book Publishing Professionals Group, advises taking a peek under the hood. Check and see which organization is sponsoring the awards program and at who the judges are. If a contest isn’t transparent about who sits on its judging panel, it might not be worth entering.
And while most awards programs charge an entry fee, usually in the neighborhood of about $75, indie authors should be aware that some awards are more about making money than giving kudos to outstanding writers.
At Next Gen, which operates as a nonprofit, the judging pool includes a variety of editors, marketers, and designers with experience in the publishing industry, as well as big name literary agents, such as Marilyn Allen, who used to work with authors like Ken Follett, Barbara Kingsolver, and Stephen King during her time at HarperCollins.
Judges like Allen are looking for quality, Goulet said. And while an original story or content is important, so is attention to detail.
“The feedback we get over and over again from judges is that some individuals don’t spend the time getting an outside editor to edit their work,” Goulet said. “They might have a fantastic story, but the book is not edited well or polished, and no matter how good the story is, we can’t award those books.”
That said, the quality of submissions Goulet has seen is improving year by year. And the same is true over at the Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards.
“Fifteen years ago we got books that weren’t much more than copies from Kinkos,” said Tara Johnson, who manages the self-pub awards program at Writer’s Digest. “Now I would say that 95% of the books that come in look basically the same as the books you might see coming from a major publisher.”
According to Johnson, the number of submissions has grown in step with the level of quality. Nearly 2,900 submissions poured into the Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards in 2014. Writer’s Digest also received about 700 submissions this year for its Self-Published E-Books Awards, which was founded two years ago for self-published authors who choose not to go down the printed path.
Competition is fierce. And that makes editing and a well-designed cover all the more important. But indie authors shouldn't forget the importance of contest details. Meeting deadlines, submitting your work in the correct format, and entering into the proper categories could mean the difference between getting in the door and getting rejected. Johnson put it simply: “Read the rules. Follow the rules.”
Although by no means conclusive, the below list offers links to a dozen book awards for indie authors with deadlines throughout the year.
- Foreword Reviews’ IndieFab Awards
- The Eric Hoffer Book Award
- Next Generation Indie Book Awards
- The BookLife Prize
- National Indie Excellence Book Awards
- IPPY Awards (Independent Publisher Book Awards)
- Readers’ Favorite Awards
- Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards
- International Book Awards (American Book Fest)
- USA Best Book Awards
- Ben Franklin Book Awards (Independent Book Publishers Association)
- Reader Views Literary Awards