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The Pros and Cons of Contests

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The Pros and Cons of Contests

Earlier this year, a member of Book Publishers Northwest asked, “Which contests make sense to enter? How much should I spend on contest entries? Are some contests more valuable than others to a publisher? Should we hold a contest?”

BPNW sent these questions out to the PMA Affiliates group and received thoughtful responses. Thanks to Rosemary Jones, who edited them for the BPNW blog, and to the group she calls “the incredible Affiliates mailing list,” several of them appear here. For full-length articles on this topic, see “The Rewards of Awards, Part 1: Submissions and Scams” and “How to Turn Even a Minor Award into Major Sales” in the January and February issues of the Independent (available online at ibpa-online.org).

Awards Carry Weight

From the National Book Awards to independent publishing awards like the Ben Franklin Awards, the ForeWord Magazine Awards, Independent Publisher Magazine’s Ippy Awards, the Pushcart Prize, and regional awards such as our state’s New Mexico Book Awards, many book awards are highly respected within the industry.

Never mind that all these awards have cash entry fees; such programs require an enormous amount of organization and administration that need to be paid for somehow. Any resemblance to the poetry and short-story contest schemes of an earlier era is entirely coincidental. Now that the traditional “gatekeepers” of publishing are mostly a thing of the past and print-media book reviews are on the wane, these awards are assuming greater importance as an aid in identifying the best new independent titles; and distributors, booksellers, librarians, and so forth put a lot of stock in these awards.

Richard Harris

President, New Mexico Book Association


It’s What the Winners Do

I think the value of an award is based more on what the winners do with the awards than the actual receiving of said award. It’s the same as book reviews. Heck, the same as publishing the book itself. If you enter the contest but don’t market the victory, solicit the review but don’t publicize the good words you receive, or print 10,000 copies but don’t try to sell the pile of paper, then it’s not worth it. But if you turn it into a success, then every award, every review, and every book is worth pursuing.

There are a few illegitimate book awards out there, but the majority can be used to promote the value of a book. The Arizona Book Publishers Association hosts the Arizona Book Awards; and if you are an Arizona publisher, or have a book about Arizona, or a target audience in Arizona (seniors, Hispanics, outdoor enthusiasts, tourists, etc.), there is good reason to consider entering our awards program. But if you are based in Portland and have a book on fishing in Alaska, it might not be relevant to you. Also note that a Ben Franklin Award might not be relevant to your marketing campaign in this situation, either—but an award from the Alaskan Fishing Association or National Outdoorsman’s Club might be a better promotional tool, especially when you want your book carried in fishing stores in that region.

The thing to do is to check out the audience of the organization hosting the competition. National vs. regional vs. state vs. local; is it associated with your subject matter? As you investigate, you will realize the legitimacy of the organization and the value of its award. This research isn’t something that an organization can answer across the board—because the legitimacy and value of award A will definitely be different than the legitimacy and value of award B (if A is a teacher’s award and B is a sportsman’s award, how valuable and legitimate it is to me vs. you can be quite different).

But remember what I said at the beginning: Don’t forget to shout “I won this award!” after you do win, or all the money you sent in was wasted.

Bill Fessler

Primer Publishers


A Modest Budget, Leveraging Awards

We’ve received a Teachers Choice Award, which was perfect for us because we sell to teachers. I loved having the book and award information appear in Learning magazine, just where we want to be! Even when one of my books was only a finalist for a Teachers Choice Award, I put the information on the back cover.

I usually budget a modest $600 for submitting a new book for awards, and I choose award programs that clearly target our niche market.

There are many ways to leverage an award once you’ve received it. Call the author an “award-winning author” on every piece of promotion that refers to the author (news releases, book flyers, book jacket, etc.). Call the book an “award-winning title” when you refer to it. Buy and use award stickers on the book.

Isn’t it exciting that even small independent publishers and self-publishers can make books excellent enough to compete with the big guys?

Toni Albert

Trickle Creek Books, Teaching Kids to Care for the Earth


Too Many Awards?

The Teachers Choice Award is a legitimate, long-standing awards program sponsored by a respected organization that does not exist for the sole purpose of awarding awards. Not the problem!

I agree that too many awards and too many “Award Winning” stickers on book covers diminish the value of all such designations. I think this has already happened. When I don’t see “Award Winning” on a cover or in front of the author’s name, I cynically wonder why the publisher did not “buy” into an awards program since the lack of award-winning status is beginning to stand out.

Doris Baker

Filter Press, LLC


An Avalanche of Book Awards

There is an avalanche of book awards competitions out there now. Many are fine cash cows for their “sponsors”—offering plenty of categories, “finalist” certificates for everyone, and fees ranging generally from $40 to $100 per entry/category.

Presently, it’s a win-win for everyone. They get your cash on very little investment, and you get a book award recognition to help promote your book.

However, eventually it will be a case of the killing of the Golden Goose. When awards appear commonplace (and they will), readers will get wise—and, unfortunately, it will diminish the meaningfulness of the more legitimate competitions.

There’s little you can do right now to change this scenario. We’ve entered some, both well-established competitions, such as Benjamin Franklin Awards and PubWest Book Design, plus a few of that new generation of awards contests. I will be interested seeing input from other affiliates.

Richard Polese

Executive Director, New Mexico Book Association


Contests Are Work!

Publishers and Writers of San Diego does not have a book award, and there’s a good reason we don’t. As those of you who do have one know, it’s a lot of work and takes the commitment of a lot of people. There are book awards here in San Diego, just not involving PWSD. In fact, we’ve been considering being a sponsor of a category of some existing book award as a way of getting more exposure without the huge commitment of time and energy.

Paulette Ensign

Tips Products International


Contests Are Work—but Fun!

By contrast, Northern California Publishers & Authors (NCPA) does have an annual competition.

Yes, it takes a bit of work, but our 108 members love it. We had 70-plus attendees at the awards banquet on April 25. The dinner was free to members and guests. Didn’t hurt that our annual conference was the next day, as that brought in some of the conference speakers and out-of-town members.

The judges were a bit unrestrained this year (31 awards), but it made sense, given that there were many excellent entries. Winners, of course, try to get the maximum mileage out of the recognition, and we give them bunches of gold stickers to apply to their books.

Anyway, it’s a legit contest. Tough judges, too.

Barry Schoenborn, President

Northern California Publishers & Authors

Willow Valley Press


Keep Contests Worthwhile

I think that, as publishers, we may know too much about these contests, and assume that the average reader both knows about and understands the differences between them all, which I don’t think readers do. And without that knowledge, all they really see is a sticker on a book cover. All other things being equal, that could be the deciding factor on a purchase.

I’m all for regional contests such as our affiliates put together, and am looking forward to the day when the MidAtlantic Book Publishers Association can host our own. I think there’s room for more such contests, as long as they’re substantial and worthwhile.

Mary Shafer

Word Forge Books


Any Kind of Award Helps

One of my books won the Ben Franklin Award. Distributors and chain stores were impressed and wanted to carry the book.

I once heard a savvy reader say, “I don’t buy any book unless it’s got an award seal of some kind on the cover.” I asked, “Which kind of award?” Answer: “Any kind.”

Naida West

Bridge House Books


Award Leads to Bigger Sales

Although I don’t enter contests, one of our books (The Barefoot Fisherman, a fishing book for kids) was a finalist in the Golden Archer awards in Wisconsin. Kids nominate their favorite books, kids do the voting. I don’t think it’s possible to “enter” the contest. Books like Harry Potter often make the finals. As a result of that nomination, Scholastic Book Fairs bought 2,000 copies of the book in one order.

We had never heard of this award. Certainly some contests and awards can be profitable.

Kenn Amdahl

Clearwater Publishing Company Inc.


For more responses to Book Publishers Northwest about contests, visit pubcontests.blogspot.com, and see bpnw.org for other news and links to other blogs.



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