Hope to Win a Book Prize? Here Are Our Top 5 Dos and Don’ts for Winning a Book Award

Southeast Michigan Herald Award
Some prizes are simply lovely to display in your office. This clear-crystal Southeast Michigan Herald Award for excellence in ecumenical publishing seems to glisten in the afternoon sun. If you win an award for your book, don’t be bashful about promoting your honor. The whole point is to draw attention toward your work.

As we wrap up this three-part look at the importance of book awards, we’ve already covered the value of entering book contests and the savvy strategy of aiming at regional honors.

Finally, here are our top dos and don’ts if you are an author hoping to win a prize.

Top 5 dos and don’ts for authors entering book awards

Don’t get snared by wolves running award mills

At Front Edge, over the past 11 years, our authors have not reported encountering such scams. But then, Front Edge was founded by journalists and we take a skeptical look at offers that seem to be too good to be true—especially when it comes to awards. Because this series of columns is encouraging authors to roll up their sleeves and look for possible prizes, we need to add this warning.

One group that is especially keen on these warnings is the nonprofit Alliance of Independent Authors (which goes by the acronym ALLi). The group was founded in at the London Book Fair as a network of authors who self-publish their books. ALLi’s sage advice about book prizes is wisdom that applies to all authors:

  • Authors should watch out for contest sponsors who seem more interested in fund-raising than actual judging. Is the entry fee way beyond your budget? Another warning sign that the sponsors’ real interest is revenue: Avoid groups that push authors to buy logo merchandise or fancy award certificates.
  • Take a look at the judging criteria and the history of past judging panels. Are the standards vague? Are the past judges obscure—or are judges’ names not provided at all? Watch out.
  • Finally, keep a sharp eye out for any contest that might actually be a come on to enroll the author in an expensive self-publishing program after the author wins. Don’t inadvertently sign away rights to your work while entering a contest.

For years, publishing magazines and online columnists have been warning about predatory award mills that sometimes dangling the potential of big cash awards. If you are an author Googling around for possible prizes, just be aware: There are a few wolves in those woods.

Do apply for a book prize sooner than later

After those dire warnings, let me emphasize: We are writing these helpful columns because prizes do matter. No question, they catch readers’ eyes and win you those precious extra moments of a customer’s attention.

The best advice we’ve spotted industry-wide is: Timing matters! Figure out the schedule for each contest (and they vary widely), then mark your calendar and time your entry as early as possible.

Why do we advise sooner than later? Some contests’ judging panels consider rolling submissions—reading entries as they arrive rather than in a single pile after the final deadline. Your book may get more time with a fresh judge if it arrives in those early waves of entries.

Do follow the rules

Book prizes vary in their application forms, requirements for review copies and fees. The biggest single mistake we’ve spotted over the years is simply not checking—then double checking—that all requirements have been met. You don’t want your entry to be bounced in the mailroom. This may sound simple—but consider recruiting a second set of eyes to look over everything before you drop your package at the Post Office.

Do try to narrow your field

The second column in this series focused on your geography. Competing within your region is a valuable strategy. But you may also have other natural assets when it comes to prize consideration. For example, each year the Hurston-Wright Legacy Awards focus on black American writers in fiction and non-fiction. Here’s the Hurston-Wright Foundation’s home site. And here’s what Wikipedia has to say about these prizes.

Among the more than 6,000 book contests each year, there are contests focused on women (and other gender-related groups), as well as members of various faiths, nationalities and professions. In addition, many contests focus on genres. Are you a new mystery novelist? Enter the Edgars! Here’s the Edgar site; and here’s the Wikipedia overview of the Edgars.

The list of genre prizes narrows to a laser focus in some fields. And, speaking of fields: there is even an annual Farm Bureau prize for books that are timely, positive and provide 100 percent accurate information about agriculture.

Do consider the Benjamin Franklin Awards

IBPA Benjamin Franklin Book Awards logo
Click on the image to learn more about the Franklin awards.

Finally, as active members of the Independent Publishers Association, we do encourage our authors to explore the annual Benjamin Franklin Awards, which the IBPA has been coordinating for more than three decades. One of the big advantages of this program, which was launched to help independent publishers promote emerging writers, is the breadth of the categories, which currently number 54! Here’s more information on these awards from the IBPA.

Learn More

This is part 3 of a 3-part series on book awards.

Part 1
What Is the Value of Entering Contests for Book Awards and Prizes?
Part 2
Top 5 Regional Book Awards for Independent Authors

About David Crumm

David Crumm is founding Editor of Front Edge Publishing. Nationally, he is known as a veteran journalist—a top writer and editor—with experience both in the U.S. and overseas. He is based in Canton, Michigan, where he also serves as Editor of Read the Spirit online magazine. His columns on trends in media appear twice a month on our Front Edge Publishing website.

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