Book Award Contests Take the Money and Run

February 9, 2009 at 2:54 pm | Posted in Promotion | 13 Comments
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cute-duckling-scamI was emailing back and forth with a new writer friend who passed on a link to me for an upcoming awards contest for self-published books. She loved my book, The Break-Up Diet: A Memoir, and thought I should enter the contest.

Now, she’s fairly new to the publishing game, so I tried to put myself back into a pair of shiny newbie shoes and see the excitement of it from her perspective—instead of looking at it through the eyes of my crusty, well-worn cynicism.

Then I thought: “Hey, wait a minute!” This snarky ol’ broad (me) has learned a thing or two by taking quite a few tricycle trips around the publishing block. So, I decided I need to warn the newbies: keep them from falling into the open manhole (er…personhole?) of wasting money and hope on award contests that don’t deliver the gift-wrapped manna from the publishing gods that they often promise.

I went to the link she provided and decided to read the contest FAQs to see what this “opportunity” was all about. Ok, I’ll be honest, I went there to gather good fodder for a blog post. And I knew I’d find it. One claim I came across made me choke on my own spit. (Don’t try to pretend you’ve never done that before.) I thought this particular claim was either wonderfully egocentric and naive, or insidiously misleading for a clueless newbie who may not know any better:

“What makes _________ Book Awards so special?
The ________ Book Awards is the only awards program of its kind because cash prizes and/or awards and maximum exposure (even possible representation) with a leading New York literary agent are given to the top 70 books entered.”

I won’t even talk about how much of a hot mess that sentence is. But, seriously? Claiming it’s the ONLY awards program of its kind?! Um…no. Not gonna fly.

The top self-pub awards: ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the Year (11 years); The IPPYs (13 years); Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards (17 years), and The Nautilus Book Awards* (10 years). These awards programs are actually worth entering. Long-standing proof of excellence? Yep. Respected judging panels? Got it. Industry-wide recognition? Check.

Newbies, grab a Q-tip. Clean out your wet-behind-the-ears ears and listen closely: If the awards contest you plan to enter DOES NOT have these qualities—step away from the PayPal button and go make a cup of tea. My favorite is Zen Mango with honey. Pour me a cup while you’re at it.

Here’s the deal, there are soooo many book “awards” sites that are all primed to take your money. They may be legitimate awards contests: Yes—you pay the entry fee and have the chance to win some prize money and you get a medal/trophy/ribbon or gold-plated mouse pad. And maybe a literary agent will look at your book (or maybe not, you’ll never actually know). But, no one in the industry takes those awards seriously. And while you are crossing your fingers and toes, hoping to win, the person hosting the contest is laughing all the way to the bank with your money and the money from hundreds (maybe thousands) of hopeful author/publishers just like you.

Don’t be the author who helps fund his first-class ticket to Barbados.


*Editor’s note: Thanks go out to a reader for catching my oversight in mentioning the Nautilus Awards in my original post. The Nautilus recognizes books that inspire spiritual growth, conscious living, and positive social change. And I can’t think of a better reason for a book award!

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  1. Am considering the Living Now Book Awards, any thoughts?

    • LNBA appears to be put on by the Jenkins Group—the same company that holds the IPPY Awards which, as mentioned in my post, has been around a while. My best advice: before you enter ANY contest, gauge what recognition it has in the industry and weigh what benefits you’ll get out of it. Book award contests are a dime a dozen and most don’t do more for the author than separate him/her from his/her money.

  2. PART 4

    What one might not know is that the costs to run a program of this size are substantial. Also, it takes a team of staff, not one or two individuals to run an awards program properly. In addition to the Awards Coordinator, Awards Chairperson, Literary Agent and Advisors, the Indie Book Awards program is run with assistance from a designer, logistics coordinator, marketing coordinator, product coordinator, books and judge coordinator, and the list goes on. Additionally, we engage the services of an accountant, a lawyer and a web developer, as and when needed, However, only a minor portion of the funds received go towards paying costs for team members. The vast majority of team members costs are either paid for by the sponsors of the Next Generation Indie Book Awards or are volunteered.

    Although we continue to increase the benefits and prizes for the Winners and Finalists, we have still not broken even and it is purely through sponsorship that we are able to cover the extra costs.

    IBPPG would like to see the Next Generation Indie Book Awards become the “Sundance” of book awards programs. We will continue to work towards that.


    • PART 5

      We will continue to work within the indie publishing industry to promote independent publishers!

      Thank you once again for everything you do within this industry!

      C. Goulet
      Chairperson, Next Generation Indie Book AwardS

  3. PART 1

    Hi Annette,

    Thank you for your enjoyable blog and all the work that you do to inform writers! My colleagues and I admire the time and effort you put into keeping up your blog and the professionalism that you present with your work. It is greatly appreciated by so many of us in the publishing industry.

    As you are a professional writer that does like to keep other writers informed with accurate information, we thought you might want to hear some more facts and information about the Next Generation Indie Book Awards (the “Indie Book Awards”) to accurately reflect the truth behind this awards program and to find out why it is the only awards program of its kind.

    The Indie Book Awards was started over three years ago by a group of independent publishers that, like you, were concerned about illegitimate book awards programs. This group of independent publishers formed together as the Independent Book Publishing Professionals Group (“IBPPG”). A number of us involved with IBPPG had experienced other awards programs in the past and questioned whether any of our books were even read by the “judges”.

    Approximately four or five years ago, a number of us who had entered books in the largest book awards program received an email that was sent to all entrants from the coordinator of that program advising that he had been extremely busy trying to get through reviewing the more than 1,500 books they had received. Instinctively, we knew that it was impossible for one person to do this within a two month time span. And from experience, we can tell you that it definitely does take a large team of judges to make sure that all books are reviewed thoroughly!

    It was because of this realization that our books were not being thoroughly reviewed that we decided to start an awards program that would ensure that all entrants had their books thoroughly reviewed by respected judges working in the publishing industry. Also, we felt that there was a need for a program that would really benefit the entrants and not the company putting it on. At that time we formed the Next Generation Indie Book Awards which is strictly run as a Not-for-Profit book awards program. We are very happy and proud to have been in a position to co-found and put on such an awards program even though it has come at a cost.


    • PART 2

      To legitimize the Indie Book Awards we knew it would be essential to run the program as Not-for-Profit and to also partner with individuals who were highly respected within the publishing industry. Marilyn Allen, Literary Agent, who had dealt with Catherine Goulet, one of the co-founders and Chairperson of the Indie Book Awards, in professional dealings previously, happily agreed to join in and be a significant force within the Indie Book Awards program. Marilyn Allen has an impressive career which includes acting as a senior executive and/or directing marketing teams with each of Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster, Penguin Books and Avon Books. Marilyn has worked with many best-selling authors such as Stephen King, Mary Higgins Clark, John Gray and Ken Follett, to name a few.

      In addition to having Marilyn as one of the co-founders of the Indie Book Awards acting in an advisory capacity and as the literary agent involved with the awards program, Gareth Eserky who is a reviewer with Publishers Weekly and a literary agent with Carol Mann Agency as well as a former editor at major trade publishing houses in New York, also agreed to come on board and Gareth has been an extremely resourceful advisor and idea generator for the Indie Book Awards program. Gareth also acts as a judge on a select number of categories.

      I think we would all agree that any author or independent publisher who takes the time to put their book forward in an awards program, deserves to have their book thoroughly reviewed and appropriately judged! To ensure that books entered in the Indie Book Awards were thoroughly reviewed and properly judged, the next step was to put together a team of qualified judges who were also respected in the publishing industry, many within independent publishing. Along with Gareth, an extraordinary team of judges was appointed which includes publishing executives, professional reviewers, agents, expert editors and designers, marketing gurus, book buyers, etc. Although some of the judges prefer to remain anonymous, you can read more about a number of the judges at:

      Additionally, the founders of the Indie Book Awards strongly believed that any legitimate book awards program should benefit the participants, particularly the winners and finalists, not the company putting on the awards program. What we found was that there were a number of book awards programs, including some of the largest ones, that appear to be money making awards programs benefiting the company more than the individuals who are named winners or finalists. We further found that some book awards programs charge a high fee and simply provide the winners and finalists with an awards certificate and medal. One question we have to that is what is happening with all of the other funds received from entrants? We know from experience that it takes substantial person-hours and costs to pull off a large awards program, however, if the largest awards program is now receiving close to 4,000 entries per year with an approximate cost of $85 per entry, it doesn’t take long to figure out that a substantial amount of money must be entering someone’s pockets.


      • PART 3

        As mentioned, it was decided from the very beginning that the Indie Book Awards be run as a Not-for-Profit awards program. The founders all agreed that any funds received would go towards running the awards program with the vast majority going back to the winners and finalists through awards, cash prizes, and more. Each year as the Indie Book Awards grows, so do the benefits for the winners and finalists. This year the awards and cash prizes were increased dramatically with 67 cash prizes, seven trophies and 240 medals being handed out in total. Additionally, this year we hosted an awards reception for the winners and finalists at the world famous Plaza Hotel in New York City and it was an extraordinary and memorable event for all that attended. We are continuing to receive positive, gracious and touching feedback from many of the individuals who attended.

        In addition to all the cash prizes and awards, we also invest a large sum of money in promotion and publicity for the winners and finalists. Each year we produce a catalog naming the winners and finalists of that year’s Indie Book Awards to distribute to thousands of book buyers, media, librarians, and others at Book Expo America (“BEA”) and beyond. Not only do we pay for the production of the catalog, we also pay thousands of dollars to have the catalog as a countertop handout at registration at BEA and additionally pay for sponsorship so that we can have the catalog handed out by individuals on the floor at BEA. This year we had 7,500 catalogs distributed at BEA and four staff handing out the catalogs at BEA. It is extremely costly to produce, ship and then distribute the catalog, however, we do this to benefit the winners and finalists to give their book as much exposure as possible.

        Of course the marketing and publicity of winners and finalists does not end there. In addition to the catalog, we have hired a web development company out of Toronto to maintain and update the website on a regular basis including the list of winners and finalists which is displayed at our website each year. More importantly, each year we send out press releases to key media announcing the winners. This year press releases appeared on more than 90 top news sites including top business sites such as CBS MarketWatch and Yahoo! Finance, Business Journals across the U.S., and many news stations sites.


  4. Annette;

    Thanks for shedding light for the newbies -My new YA novel, HELLIE JONDOE, was inadvertently entered into one of these scam contests. What do you know? I won. I quickly asked them to disassociate my name and my book from all their promo which really isn’t promo. Just today, I learned this same book is one of 14 finalists for the Foreword YA Novel of the Year Award which is a legit contest. But it is not necessarily for self-published books. Many of the books in the YA category are published by royalty publishers of considerable reputation. My press, Texas Tech University Press, has been around a long, long time.
    Thanks again!
    Randall Platt

  5. Thanks to you, I’ve just freed my inbox of a newsletter that arrives far too often: I’ve just unsubscribed from an author’s marketing group’s newsletter that today recommended a call for entry for Indie book authors. At first glance it appeared exciting! When it took pages and pages and pages of scrolling to find the entry fee ($75 per entry and entry in more than one category welcome.. ya, no doubt!) I became suspicious. I googled “how much should entering for book awards cost?” and your blog post came up, confirming my suspicions. The site I looked at was also ‘the ONLY one that blah blah blah..’
    Thanks very much for links to reputable self-pub awards!
    Very cool blog and blog design.. I’m a following fan now.

    • Janet, I’m glad my post was helpful to you. I encourage every writer to do his/her Google diligence. 😉 Any time you come across something you’re unsure about, Google the business, organization, contest, etc., included with the words “scam” and “warning” because if someone has had a problem, they’ll likely have posted about it online somewhere. Or in the case of Publish America—it’s not just somewhere, it’s *everywhere*.

      Welcome to my Paper Trail. =) Thanks for following!

  6. This was interesting. What do you think of the Nautilus Awards?

    • Cheryl, thanks for catching my oversight! The Nautilus Awards are a wonderful way to recognize books that inspire and encourage change and understanding; they really should have been mentioned in the post. I’ll have to ammend the entry!

  7. Thank you so much for sharing this.

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