Thursday, July 24, 2014

Self-Published Book Awards: Are They Right for You?

By Marcy Kennedy, @MarcyKennedy

Part of the Indie Author Series

Even though the stigma of self-publishing has decreased over the last few years, it can still be difficult for indie authors to find ways to gain recognition and respect for their books.

Book awards are one way to help overcome that hurdle. Some of the best awards give the winners media exposure (leading to more book sales), cash prizes, and opportunities to speak with agents/editors from traditional publishing (if that’s a path the winner wants to consider). Beyond that, having an award win, or even an honorable mention, adds credibility to you and your book.

But not all awards are created equal. Some are scams. Some won’t give a good enough return on investment for your time and entry fees.

Before we enter any contest, we should ask ourselves a few questions about our book and about the potential competition.

1. Does my book have at least a four-star rating on Amazon?


And these should be averaged based on reviews from people you don’t know. I’m not trying to be mean here. I’m trying to be honest. Competition for awards is fierce, especially for the more prestigious among them. We’re only going to be throwing away our money if our book isn’t ready.

2. Do I have a paperback version of my book? 

Many award competitions still require entrants to submit a paperback copy of their book rather than an ebook copy, though this is changing.

3. Are my cover and formatting up to professional standards? 

Like it or not, many awards have a criteria in their scoring rubric called “professionalism” or “professional appearance.” They want to see that our book can stand next to any traditionally published book and look like it belongs. It would be heart-breaking to enter a competition and lose not because of our content but because of our appearance, especially when it’s within our control to change it.

4. Does this contest have a category for my genre? 


If it doesn’t, the chances that our book will be judged by someone unfamiliar with our genre (and therefore less likely to score it appropriately) increase exponentially.

5. How long has the contest/award been in existence? 


A new award isn’t necessarily a scam, but it also won’t garner the same respect as an award like the Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards that’s been around for two decades.

6. How much will it cost me to enter (including the fee and postage to mail a printed copy)?


We need to weigh the cost against the potential benefits. Are we going to get a better return on our investment by entering this contest or by placing a BookBub ad?

7. What other benefits does the winner receive? 


To use the WD Self-Published Book Awards as an example again, the grand prize winner receives a large cash prize, but they also get to attend a WD conference, receive promotion in WD magazine, have copies of their book sent to 10 respected review publications, and the list goes on.

8. Will I receive feedback from the judge(s)? 


We may or may not be allowed to use positive feedback from a judge as part of our promotional material (each contest has its own rules), but constructive criticism from the judges can often help us see weaknesses we may have missed. As self-publishers, we have the freedom to correct those mistakes in the current book or to simply put what we’ve learned into use when writing the next one.

9. What are other authors saying about this award? 


A Google search can save us a lot of headaches when it comes to deciding whether an award is legit and worth our time or not. If there’s anything shady going on, someone has probably blogged about it. And if we can’t find anything at all about the award online, that’s another red flag. Even if they’re a legitimate award, it means winning it won’t be a significant boost for us or our book. Entering an obscure award won’t help our book become less obscure.

Now that you know what to ask, a couple of great lists to get you started on researching awards can be found at “30 Book Awards for Self-Published Authors” by Joel Freidlander and “32 Book Awards Authors Should Pursue” by Scott Lorenz.

Have you tried entering any of your books into awards competitions? Was the experience positive or negative? What tips would you give for others looking to enter?

Marcy Kennedy is a suspense and speculative fiction writer who believes fantasy is more real than you think. Alongside her own writing, Marcy works as a freelance fiction editor and teaches classes on craft and social media through WANA International. She’s also the author of the Busy Writer’s Guides series of books. You can find her blogging about writing and about the place where real life meets science fiction, fantasy, and myth at

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Both How to Write Dialogue: A Busy Writer’s Guide and Mastering Showing and Telling in Your Fiction: A Busy Writer’s Guide are now available in print!


  1. Great article, Marcy! One of my books is a finalist in the first award contest I've entered, so I've been considering entering one of my other books in a contest and this will really help me make my decision!

    1. Congratulations! I hope you did something to celebrate :)

  2. I think #6 is a really huge consideration. A few friends from my critique group keep entering a high-cost contest that, should you win, enables you to put stickers on your book, which must also be purchased at a high cost. They're thrilled with how "nice" the folks are, but why wouldn't they be seeing as they rake in over $400 per victim. So many of these "awards" really do strike one as a subset of vanity publishing.

    1. Indeed. I can't stress enough how we need to consider what we're getting out of the competition before we go in.

  3. I was recently in an organization that has been running a book contest for many years. In their call for judges, one of the categories of people they are looking for is "people who love to read." In my opinion, not having professional judges of a certain caliber destroys a contest's credibility.

    This organization would be bankrupt without the income from this contest, so let the author beware...

    I wonder if authors can get any honest information about who is judging the contests they are considering entering?

    One of my editing clients was outraged by the useless and unprofessional comments she received on her work when she entered the competition I'm referring to, things like "I really wanted to like it but I just didn't."

    As with all things publishing related, due diligence on the author's part is a must!

    1. Thanks for adding such great elements to the discussion!

      Everyone needs to make their own choice, but, like you said, I'd be wary about a contest that doesn't use professionals for judges. The average reader can be easily swayed by a lot of things, and the hope is that a professional will carefully look at all the elements that should be considered.

      Some contests do share their judges list. Many won't do that prior to the competition (for obvious reasons), but you can go look at the lists of past judges. That can really help give you a good idea of what personal preferences the judges might be bringing in with them and also whether the judges really have the experience necessary to make a fair assessment.

  4. This article brings up some important points.

    Overall I think winning an award or even getting an honorable mention speaks to your ability to take good advice and use it effectively. Working at wining an award or two is an important exercise.

    I have won many public speaking awards. They have done nothing for my career. I do use them for self confidence and when I need to make a point.

    Thank you Marcy for your contribution to Fiction University and my further learning.

    1. You're very right. Anyone who wins an award or who receives an honorable mention should be proud of what they've created. Someone felt their work was the best piece submitted and that should encourage them to keep moving forward as a writer. That's valuable above and beyond any prizes. Winning can sometimes be the push a writer needs to keep going rather than giving up.

  5. Although I haven't entered for any awards, I think they have their benefits. I recall a year or two ago Susan Ee's Angelfall was considered for an award and that is what brought my attention to her writing.

  6. Thanks for an informative article. I have entered a number of book awards since 2009 and have been fortunate enough to win eleven awards and nominations in the ones I entered. I checked them all out carefully first. Although some people might turn their noses up at self-published authors, winning awards shows that the book has met the standards required by the professional publishing industry. A few comments spring to mind - paperback vs e-book. Sending print copies can be costly (I live in South Africa where the rand to dollar exchange rate is horrendous), however, some contests will accept e-books if print is not possible. Genre: the contests I have entered have a wide variety of genres. In addition, consider entering your book into several if possible. I went into the Nautilus Book Awards and did not win the first time; the second time (advised by the organisers) I put it into a different category and won a Silver medal. The publicity one gets is worth it because the organisers usually really make the effort to publicise the contest and the winners, and often the details appear in their newsletters and magazines. I find that organisers are incredibly helpful if there are problems sending your books. Certificates can be printed out and stickers (always a good thing to attract attention) are free to use on your website. There is usually a nominal fee for the physical stickers. The comment about a judge's in-depth assessment. I was delighted when I won a Gold Award in the 2013 Wise Bear Book Awards, but what was most useful was the detailed review assessment, how they had judged it, what they liked the most etc. Apologies if this sounds like a trumpet-blowing exercise, but I really have worked hard to make the contests work for me. Yes, consider the cost (example the Mom's Awards are too expensive for me, although it is prestigious), but also the fact that your book is going to be viewed by the right people. Somehow your book can end up in high places. I have lots of info in this blog post, including a calendar of the best awards to enter (dates/links/print vs e-book etc). I am happy to share this with other authors.

  7. You make some very pertinent points, Marcy. At Writers' Village we've been running a short fiction award for five years and recently began a bursary scheme for debut novels. Surprisingly, few entrants have been concerned about the monetary value of the prizes. The key benefit that almost everyone looks for is feedback from the judges. So we have always provided that. I'm personally astonished by the number of contests, some of them renowned names, that give no feedback - or even publish the winning stories, as a guide for future contestants.

  8. I haven't entered any contests, but I've thought about it. I'll have to study your links and make a decision. Thanks!

  9. Thanks for this, Marcy! I've been very tempted to enter a number of contests, but when it came down to it, the same arguments you make in your points #6 and 7 discouraged me from entering: the cost outweighed any real benefits. As much as I would have loved to be a finalist or winner, in the end, being able to put another "X Award Finalist/Winner" on my product description won't sell more books. (At least, it doesn't seem to have helped much--I was fortunate enough to be a finalist in a juried contest that has no entry fees.)

  10. Thank you for providing some great head's up for us new in the industry.

  11. You have made some good points here, Marcy. I entered 2 of my books in a state writers' association competition a couple of years ago. It was the first time I'd ever entered such a contest, and each book won an award: silver for my nonfiction book and bronze for my novel. As a self-published author, I thought it was well worth the $35 or $45 entry fee per book to win the awards, which will help promote my books and lend credence to my professionalism as a writer. Furthermore, this particular competition included 3 different judges' critiques, which can be very helpful, especially for the authors of unpublished works, which also were accepted for the competition. This contest accepts digital entries, so there is no added cost there, and as a result of my awards, I was invited to be a judge in the next year's competition and will be continuing in that capacity again this year. Thanks to this one competition, I now have awards to help promote my books and a judging credit to help promote my book editing business. I consider that a win/win!