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The Risks and Rewards of Book Awards: 5 Tips for Authors

What author doesn’t dream of winning a prestigious award for their book? Every year the publishing industry and book lovers alike wait with bated breath for the announcement of prestigious prizes such as the Pulitzer, National Book Award, or the Nobel Prize in Literature. However, there are many other awards, recognitions, and contests out there! While the odds of winning a national prize can be slim, there are countless regional and genre specific awards that can not only offer you and your book the opportunity to be recognized but provide a great boost for your book marketing or book publicity campaign.

But be warned: not all that glitters is a gold medal. Here are some things to keep in mind when you enter your book into a competition:

  1. Read the rules. Before you take the time to fill out that application and mail out copies of your book, make sure that your hard work is actually worth the effort. Many contests have specific rules regarding publication dates, whether or not they allow self-published books, and specific eligible genres.
  2. Enter your book in the correct category. Speaking of genre, it’s important to make sure you stick out for your excellent writing, not because your title doesn’t belong in the category. This can be especially important for YA and children's books, since different contests can have very different definitions of what distinguishes the two. If the contest rules aren’t clear, don’t hesitate to contact the organizer or committee chair, their email address should be visible on the contest site.
  3. Know your competition. Do you know who won the award in the past? Is there a consistent theme or style the judges seem to like? What’s the buzz within writer communities online about the contest? Asking questions like these can not only help to determine if your book stands a chance of winning, but also help you understand the criteria by which your are being judged. Do this early enough in the process and you’ll have time to make the tweaks to make your book more appealing to the judges!
  4. Beware of scams. Before you hand that application fee over to the judges, make sure that it’s not just disappearing into their pockets. If you don’t recognize the organization or institution sponsoring the book contest, then it’s time to start doing your homework. Some warning signs:
    1. There’s no organization attached to the contest
    2. Past winners are difficult to find or the contest is very new
    3. No timeline for judging or announcement of winners
    4. Mailing address is a PO box or is outside the region (we’ve seen NYC book contests with addresses in California)

Don’t take shortcuts. Winning an award isn’t just about the quality of your writing - judges will also pay attention to the details. Poor editing, an unappealing cover, or application mistakes are all easy ways to find yourself out of the running. Triple check everything before submitting it to save yourself some disappointment.

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