The Rewards of Awards, Part 1: Submissions and Scams
by Cynthia Frank
I’m a firm believer in submitting books for awards, whether consumer, association, trade, national, or international. Even if you feel that your title may have a minuscule chance of winning the National Book Award, there’s no better way to get it into the hands of the book industry’s movers and shakers. Part of the reason we publish is to get the word out; our goal is to be seen. Judges for the National Book Award include leading editors and bestselling authors. Jurors for other awards include booksellers, editors, regional reviewers, designers, typographers, marketing gurus, and specialists in various subjects. One important reader taking up the cause for your book can move it into the spotlight.
If you’re a publisher, submitting your authors’ books for awards can light up your editorial and promotional passions, inspire your designer and typographer, and even open your eyes to new markets. Be sure to tell your authors that awards submissions are part of your marketing and promotion plans. Knowing you believe in their book enough to submit it for awards gives an author a nice morale boost months after the publication date, too. Because awards are often given well after a book’s release, they’re a great way to renew a title’s cachet.
Knowing that you’re going to submit a book for awards can also inspire your handling of editorial and design components and your attention to detail, to quality control, and to honing your craft.
Every legitimate regional, state, industry, consumer, and association award can contribute to your book’s marketing and promotion—and your bottom line. Awards increase the publisher’s and the author’s platform and credibility, which helps sales of both books and subsidiary rights.
Large awards, such as Caldecott, Newbery, Hugo, Nebula, and the National Book Award, are well funded and do more media releases than many industry awards. You’re likely to get more consumer recognition. (Be aware that if your book wins a National Book Award, you’ll be expected to contribute some money toward promotion.)
Specialty-market awards, such as those given by the Cat Writers Association and the Society of Automotive Historians, can hit your target market and help increase direct sales and consumer recognition.
Trade awards (Ben Franklin, IPPY, ForeWord, Quill, Choice, Booklist) can draw the attention of your wholesale and bookstore buyers, trade media, agents, librarians, and translation agencies.
A regional award for one of our fiction titles precipitated interest from a travel bureau in the author’s state for 10,000 copies (nonreturnable). They found out about the award from fax and email press releases we sent out. We’ve also received subsidiary-rights interest in Korean, Japanese, German, Portuguese, Bulgarian, Hungarian, Chinese, Spanish, and Arabic language translations and in audio rights as a result of awards announcements. A German agency contacted us after Book Expo America because they heard one of our business titles had won a ForeWord award. We’re now negotiating the size of the advance.
Watch Out for Spurious Awards
Sometimes an invitation to apply for an award raises the hairs on the back of my neck. Poetry publishers and authors, in particular, should be on the lookout for suspect awards pitches. If you’ve been publishing and writing for a while and know your genre, but haven’t heard of the award before, due diligence is necessary. Ask yourself:
Does the award show up in a Google search?
Does the award have a favorable listing with Preditors & Editors? (P&E is “a simple compendium for the serious writer, composer, game designer, or artist to consult for information, regardless of genre”; see anotherealm.com/prededitors/pubaward.htm.)
Is the invitation professional looking?
Does it provide a return street address, or just a Post Office box?
Is buying an expensive book or service part of the submission process?
Is a list of previous winners available? Would you like your book to be in that company?
How much does a submission cost, and does the fee seem to align with the award’s publicity and notoriety? For example, applying for the National Book Award costs $125 per title, and PMA’s Ben Franklin Awards applications are $80 per title per category. Both are prestigious, quality awards that get a great deal of publicity and support from the awarding agencies.
Try hard to check out previous winners and articles, clippings, other publicity, and mentions of the award or award-winning titles. Where did they appear? Is the award being promoted to your public, your buyers, referrers, or resellers (wholesalers and retailers, libraries, gift stores, museums, other special sales venues)? Or is it being promoted only to other authors and independent presses whose submission fees will keep the company in the black?
Leads to Awards Information
There are awards for design (interior and cover), content, marketing, subject matter, production values, and even indexing. You can research awards using—among other things—Literary Market Place, Writer’s Market, Google (especially helpful to learn whether a particular association or type of association offers an award), and Boookwire (bookwire.com/bookwire/otherbooks/Book-Awards.html).
Here are some other research sites we often use for lists of awards.
pen.org (the PEN Grants & Awards Database; click on “Publications”)
Authors should check all the organizations they belong to—you might be surprised at the awards possibilities. Publishers should review authors’ questionnaires for lists of memberships.
With or without membership, you can submit your books for awards from hundreds of organizations, including the Dog Writers Association of America, the Cat Writers Association, the Organization of American Historians, the International Association of Printing House Craftsmen, American Alliance for Theater and Education, and, of course, PMA.
Most award submissions require an entry fee. Often, you’ll need to supply multiple copies of the book; sometimes you will need to fill out special forms or supply press materials. Review all the potential awards for a given book, noting deadlines, materials needed, special requirements, then review your budget and the time needed to prepare each submission. Most awards require that books have been published within a certain timeframe. Plan ahead so you can take your time.
Also, start early to think about what you’ll do when you win, the subject of part two in this series.
Cynthia Frank, president of Cypress House, has 20 years of experience in writing, publishing, editing, and teaching; she received an IPPY Award as one of Ten Outstanding Women of Independent Publishing. A member of the Education Committee for the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association, she has presented workshops for PMA University, the Publishing Institute at the University of Denver, and the National Association of Science Writers, among other groups. To learn more, visit cypresshouse.com.