Book Awards. I think they serve a purpose, but like so many things in the “business” they can sometimes become a purpose of their own, and they may not achieve the goals we all expect. Still, if your book wasn’t published through one of the big five the American Librarian’s Assoc. seems to pretend you don’t exist, so the normal channels of getting visibility for a new book are limited. There are marketeers and others who pretend that they can help, but—in the end, and even if you’ve written a good book—you cannot expect visibility, and you can’t buy your way to writing success. It’s mainly luck meeting preparation and quality, but that magic touch of luck is more important than quality.
The book business has historically used a combination of agents and editors and publishing managers to separate the chaff from the wheat, and it has worked well for a while, but the publishing model has changed as technology changed and it is no longer an overwhelmingly expensive proposition to publish a good book. You still need editors—developmental, copy, proof—and you still need designers and artists (at least for the print editions), but the printing and binding cost to print a single copy, or a few copies, is now manageable, and ebooks have no printing cost. That means the publishers and agents and editorial filters have been losing their unique position. But they are reluctant to give up power, as are those who have long fed on the industry.
This leave few alternatives for new micro-publishers and writers who are unwilling to surrender artistic control for the “privilege” of publishing their books. The ALA helps the big 5 maintain their stranglehold, mainly (I think) because they have no way to deal with the deluge of books, many of which have not benefitted from someone who can actually write, nor editors and so forth (simply being cheap to “print” doesn’t make every book a readable book). I understand their pain. I often have difficulty myself in choosing a new book to read—I’ve gotten picky in my old age, and am unwilling to waste my precious time and life reading crap. But that does not solve the problem, because crap comes from a myriad of places, including the big 5.
I saw book awards as ONE potential way to help me (as an author) help readers choose non-crap books. I know that I have (in the past) used the ALA awards to help me decide which books were worth my time, and I want to have access to authors not choosing to submit themselves to the endless chain of filters. I think the awards are, in fact, useful for this, although there are awards and there are awards. The trick is: how do we know which ones are worth out effort (and money)—it costs money to run an awards program, just like anything else, and these costs have to be met somehow. You want to choose honest awards, and I research them before I enter.
In the past 4 (or so) years I’ve entered one book per year into between 2 and 4 competitions. I chose the following:
Independent Publisher’s Book Awards (IPPY), and related competitions
Next Gen Book Awards
Benjamin Franklin Awards
Colorado Author’s League (CAL) Writing Awards
Foreword Reviews Competition
I think all of these are honest award competitions, and the CAL awards are even about 75 years old. I’ve won a gold medal (IPPY), a bronze medal (Moonbeam—related to IPPY), and have been a finalist in the Foreword Reviews competition, the CAL writing awards, and the Next Gen Awards. I’d have to say that, thus far, these results have had some, although microscopic, impact on my ability to attract readers. I just don’t think they matter so much. They are a good way to get a kind of feedback for your efforts, but I have not seen much in the way of a direct correlation between award success and book readership.
This isn’t to say that I am opposed to the competitions. I just don’t think they are having as much impact as—say—the connections (a virtual monopoly) the big five have in getting their books in front of the channels that make a difference, although I have to admit I don’t see everyone’s results and the business is still evolving.
One negative is the oversupply of “free” books, though giveaway channels and then (of course) the pirates, who claim to have distributed many times the number of copies I have seen sold. Ebooks make our work easy to steal, and no degree of digital “protection” will ever be as important as the integrity of those who try to make sure the artists are paid for their work (books, music, etc). Incidentally, giving your books away isn’t the answer either. I “gave away” 12 thousand copies of one book and I feel it was a mistake. Free stuff is not valued.