Writing Awards – Somethin’ You Oughta Know…

June 9, 2015


Many of the queries that drop into my inbox talk about the lovely awards they’ve won. It feels awesome to have your work sporting a gold medal. Sometimes there’s an added bonus of having an agent or editor take a look at the winner with the idea of representation or publication. Woot!! You stand out as being a talented writer, and that should give you confidence in your talents. But you’ve only just begun the journey. The biggest hurdle is whether your story is marketable.

I’ve been on many judging panels over the years, and I’ve never seen anything in any of the judging guidelines about marketability…which is the cornerstone of the publishing industry. I’ve put my little gold stamp of approval on many entrees, knowing full well they would be very tough to sell. Which sucks stale Twinkie cream.

Many of these stories (since I’m Memoir/Biography) focus on overcoming/dealing with devastating diseases/addiction/life changes…the list goes on forever. The problem is that these stories have been done to death, and there’s often nothing unique in these stories to set them apart from what’s already on store shelves. So unless the author has a huge platform that can gather national attention, that award winner could gather dust.

Many look at writing awards as helping to establish a platform, and this is worrisome. See, readers, on average, don’t follow writing awards. They look for content and a great plot…and maybe a really cool cover. With the gajillions of books on the marketplace, a writing competition win isn’t enough to help a book swim upstream because readers have a huge amount of reading options. A publisher can advertise, screech from bartops, hire airplanes to lug banners, and thrust free copies into hands of anyone with a heartbeat…and they still may not sell. It’s a crapshoot, which is why publishers are very choosy about the projects they accept for publication. Which takes us right back to, “Can I market this book?”

I still think writing competitions are cool, and I think it does a lot of good for a writer’s self-esteem to win one. But don’t rest on your laurels. Ask yourself if your book is marketable. And the only way to know that is to be keenly aware of your competition.

Happy writing!

Publisher Contests and Puffery – Do They Mean Anything?

January 8, 2014


An acquaintance excitedly told me about the publication of her book and urged me to rush over to her website and look at her cover art which, of course, I did. The little gold seal on the cover caught my eye, and I asked her about it. What’s with this “ABC Publisher Romance Winner”?

“Oh,” she said with no small measure of pride, “I won the contest and was awarded a publishing contract.”

Um. Oh. “Okay, but why is it on your cover?”

“I’m an award-winning author, and this will sell books!”

There were simply no words. It’s ludicrous to think this little gold seal is an amulet whose power will sell books because this is a no-name publisher with no marketing or promotion, no distribution, and no store placement. The only people who will see her book are those who have a book pressed into their hands by…the author.

Stuff like this make my teeth itch because it’s puffery and has zero meaning. Store-front publishers do this stuff to capitalize on the real award winning competitions, like PEN Award, Pulitzer, Man Booker, National Book Award, Edgar Awards, and to a smaller degree, Ben Franklin, and IPPYs, thinking having a little gold seal will sell books.

And it may. I mean, readers could see my acquaintance’s gold seal and believe her book is very important and buy several copies – and for her sake, I hope they do. But this will be limited to those who know her and attend the talks she’s planned around town. There is no grander reach to the reading market by the publisher.

Meanwhile, this acquaintance is calling herself an award-winning author, which I imagine makes her feel like a million bucks. But how does this translate to sales if her publisher sits on their hands and forces her to do all the marketing and promotion?

Authors tell me they’re award winners in their queries, and I check them out. First thing I look for is whether the contests are so obscure that they have no meaning. Can I see how many writers competed in each genre? It’s impossible to give credence to these contests. Now, if you won a Pushcart, then I know you have some writing chops.

My feeling is that these “award winners” by unknown publishers are meant to puff up the author’s ego and to attract more victims writers to their web. Without any marketplace presence, there really isn’t anything to crow about, right? We all love the feeling of being considered exceptional. When I was 10, I was voted “Smelliest Feet” at Y Camp. Now, one would think I’d be embarrassed, but oh nay nay. My distinction awarded me the top bunk, where there was a small rip in the tent at the foot of the bunk. Not only could my feet air out, but it was also the coolest place in the tent during a very hot summer in the mountains. And because it was such a goofy award, I made a lot of friends. Go figure.

But I digress…

My point is that if any of us are going to be awarded for being outstanding, shouldn’t it mean something? Shouldn’t we care about quality and depth, and not just the title? There are great publishers who hold contests from time to time and the winner receives a contract, so I’m not saying writing contests bite the big one. But talk is cheap, so stick with known publishers whose books grace the bookstore shelves.

Which would you rather have? A cover devoid of an Award Winner seal and widely distributed and promoted, or a pretty gold seal on a book that will end up sitting in your garage? …which is what I fear is the fate for this acquaintance of mine.

If you enter a publisher’s writing contest, please make sure that the publisher has the chops to  distribute, promote, and market their books. How can you figure that out? Simple. Go to a bookstore. If you see their books on the shelves, then you know they’re walking the walk. Don’t let anyone appeal to your ego, lest you become their victim.

%d bloggers like this: