Listed within the pages of this issue are the winners of and the finalists for the 2004 Benjamin Franklin Awards. Making the list of finalists is an incredible feat. The judges tell us that the quality of books has increased so much over the years that it becomes more and more difficult to choose just one winner and two finalists in each category.
When the Ben Franklins were first conceived, we did want to honor publishers who present great books, but that was not the primary reason behind these awards. They were designed to help publishers get honest critiques of their titles from people in our industry who are either purchasers or reviewers. We reveal all the names of the many judges who participate each year (this year, I believe there were more than 150), but we never reveal the category in which any particular person served as a judge so that judges can feel comfortable offering candid opinions on ways to improve each title. As far as I know, these awards are the only ones that return the judging sheets to all participants.
By the time you read this, all entrants in this competition will have received or will be about to receive the judging forms. Some of the reviews are glowing. Some are not so glowing, but they will help the publishers who get them improve the books submitted for the award as well as other products from the same publishers. As the years have passed, many titles that got critical reviews years ago have been reentered in the Most Improved Redesign category. It’s nice to know that some publishers are benefiting from the comments.
You can see a great display of all of the finalists during the first day of the Publishing University, which lets everyone look at the “best” in each category. That in itself is a learning experience, and we’ve noticed many a designer taking notes as they look at many of these books.
One Winner’s Success Story
There are many, many stories about winners and finalists. I’m going to share one that I received when we reported to Bonny Parker of Podium Publishing, publisher of Reflections in the Ice: Inside the Heart and Mind of an Olympic Champion. It’s a story about a poor Mexican-American boy from the barrios of Los Angeles who wins an Olympic Gold in speedskating, becoming the first Latino Winter Olympic Gold Medalist.
Here’s Bonny’s story:
“I started in the business exactly one year ago at PMA-U. I knew nothing of the book industry whatsoever. Now, armed mostly with knowledge from PMA, Podium Publishing is a double Ben Franklin finalist!!! [Actually, Podium turned out to be a double Ben Franklin winner, but Bonnie didn’t know that when she sent this e-mail.] We have also almost completely sold out our first print run of 6,000 copies, all through nontraditional markets (again thanks to PMA tips).
“We will be going into a second printing around the time of PMA-U 2004 and probably signing with a distributor, thanks to our quick success, directly attributable to PMA. Part of our marketing strategy up front was to be on the podium for the Ben Franklin Awards our first year, as we knew how incredibly prestigious the awards are.
“We took a unique approach to the design of the book, which paid off in huge dividends and these awards. After PMA-U I decided to team up with two vendors I met there, Lightbourne and Phoenix Color, before we even conceptualized the cover. We designed it together, which made for seamless printing and extraordinary special design features for a new publisher.
“Keep in mind, this is our first book, and I knew nothing about the industry less than a year ago.
“As I mentioned to you, I would be willing to speak at PMA-U and explain to attendees exactly the path I took to success. I think this would especially resonate with people who think that success is elusive, or too complicated.”
You’d better believe that Bonny will be a featured speaker next year in New York at the 2005 Publishing University!
Her book won in the Autobiography/Biography and the Best Designed 3-4 Color Cover categories.
Can wondrous things happen to a new, independent publisher? When the publisher is armed with knowledge, an open mind, and a passion to succeed, you bet they can!