The digital age has made it dramatically easier to publish high quality books and authors no longer need to seek publication by one of the big six publishing houses to get their work out there for anyone to purchase and read. This has led to a rapid expansion of small, independent publishing houses and also to the self-publishing revolution which is currently going on around us. Indeed, self-publishing, once seen as the last resort of those who couldn’t string two words together, is now being seen as a savvy business move by many authors. After all, why give away 90% of the money your book earns to publishing houses who seem to be doing less and less to promote their books (and be expecting the writers to do more and more), unless they have been written by a well-established author with a pre-existing fan base?
However, this publishing revolution has a down side. There are now a phenomenal number of books available, and the numbers are expanding rapidly with each and every passing day. For example, there’s apparently over 40 million books in Amazon’s catalogue, rankings of as low as 5 – 10 million (books only get a ranking once they’ve had at least one sale), and almost 300,000 books are officially published in the US each – not including those self-published digitally on things like Kindle Direct Publishing and Smashwords). This means that it can be difficult to make even the best book stand out from the crowd so that people are willing to part with their hard-earned money to purchase it. This is particularly true for new authors who, almost by definition, don’t have an existing fan base out there. Think about it for a minute, when was the last time you took a gamble and brought a book by a complete unknown?
Of course, you can build a reputation through the reviews section on Amazon, or on sites for avid readers, such as Goodreads, but you still have to get people to buy a copy of your book before they will post a review. In addition, until there as a reasonable number of reviews, there is always the worry in the back of the would-be purchaser’s mind that the single glowing five-star review might have been written by the author’s mother and so might not be completely unbiased (whether this is true or not is irrelevant, it’s just how people view such individual reviews).
So, how do you get round this? This is where book awards come in. Book awards are competitions which are run, usually by an organisation of some kind, which you can enter a book into, and have it critically evaluated and compared to other similar books. There are a wide range of book awards out there, some of which are specifically aimed at independently and self-published books. Yes, it usually costs money to enter a book (typically around $25 – $100 dollars), so there is some outlay, but the returns can be phenomenal if you are selected as a finalist, given an honourable mention or, even better, win. This is because receiving such awards gives your book and your writing credibility, and you can use it to help advertise and sell your book. For example, on Amazon, there is a specific section for editorial reviews, which allow you to add statements about awards and other plaudits that your book has won. In addition, those who run the competition will often post information about your book on their own websites, put out press releases, promote it in their own advertising and international book fairs, and so on. This can give you a level of publicity which you simply couldn’t afford to pay for on your own.
Of course, if you do well, there’s also the nice happy feeling of being able to describe yourself as an award-winning writer, and if you win something for one book, it can help promote not just it, but any others that you write. After all, readers are much more likely to take a chance on a book which is described as ‘written by the award-winning author of …’ than if is just says ‘written by the author of …’
So, what book awards are out there? Well, in short, loads. This means you need to be quite careful about which you choose to enter, otherwise you could end up spending a lot of money. You need to read the rules and make sure you’re eligible, and you need to make sure you complete all the paperwork properly. Finally, many awards will have multiple categories, so you need to make sure you enter your book into the right one.
In terms of ones I’d recommend, here’s a few:
First, there’s the ForeWord Reviews’ Book of the Year Award, which is open to all independently published books and offers a wide range of categories. I’m not recommending this just because I happen to be a finalist in the horror section of this year’s competition, but also because it’s a genuinely influential award to win.
Second, there’s the Independent Book Publishers Award, or IPPY for short. Again, this is an award specifically for independently published books.
Thirdly, there the Next Generation Indie Book Awards, which offers as part of its prizes that the winners in every category (and there’s some 60 of them, including ones specifically for first novels) will be passed onto a New York literary agent for consideration. There’s no guarantee this will come to anything, but it could lead to potentially valuable representation, connections and deals. And it’s way better than having your book languishing in some slush pile somewhere. Interestingly, this competition is described on Wikipedia as the ‘Sundance’ of the book publishing world (a reference to the renowned Sundance film festival. I have not idea of how true this is, but it certainly would be a nice thing to be able to describe your book as having won.
The final award I’m going to consider here is the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. This is run by Createspace, Amazon’s self-publishing arm, and the grand prize winner will receive a publishing contract and a $50,000 advance. Book which have already been published aren’t eligible, but if you have an unpublished manuscript waiting in the wings, then it might be the one for you.
This is just a sample of the awards that are out there, but there are many others too. One useful list of book awards you might want to consider, which also provides more information about why it is good to enter and win such competitions, can be found here on the pages of the San Francisco Book Review.
Of course, all this talk of book awards and what they can do for your reputation as an author, and indeed sales of your books, doesn’t change the fact that to be in with a chance of winning, you first need to write a really good book, complete with a great premise, realistic, likeable characters and a good plot filled with gripping drama. You also need to ensure that your book is properly edited and proof-read to ensure that it is of as high quality as possible. Finally, if you are self-publishing, many of these competitions require that you don’t just have an electronic edition, but also a printed edition of some kind (although this is rapidly changing) which can mean more effort on your part to typeset a printed edition, create a cover etc, and you need to find somewhere to print it (Amazon’s CreateSpace is something I’d recommend for doing this quickly and cheaply – It’s a good service, although there’s still something about Amazon’s business model that leaves me feeling a little queasy). In short, book awards are great for publicity, but it doesn’t mean that you can skimp on the writing and production process as you won’t win if you don’t have a good book in the first place.
Of course, there is also the flip side. If you don’t enter, then no matter how good your books it, it isn’t going to win anything, is it?
From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.
To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.