Book awards – Worth it or not?

Tis the season – not only the holiday season, but the book award season. Readers’ Favorite and Writer’s Digest, to name just two, announced winners in recent weeks. And with those announcements, author hopes are either realized or dashed.

Like corn sprouting after a spring rain, a debate about the value of entering book award competitions rose up in a Facebook author group this week. The cost of an entry can be hefty when you compare it to how many books one needs to sell to recoup that expense.

"Go Away Home" receives the 2014 Readers' Favorite silver medal in historical fiction from founder Debra Gaynor

“Go Away Home” receives the 2014 Readers’ Favorite silver medal in historical fiction from founder Debra Gaynor

Basking in the glow of having won my first such award this year, I’m inclined to say yes, it’s worth it. Well of course I would, right? But as a marketer (that’s where I spent 30 years of my career), I know neither the question nor the answer related to the value of entering such competitions is simple.

The awards themselves have varying degrees of history and credibility. The judging itself is subjective, regardless of the organization doing it and no matter how they try to make it otherwise. Writing is subjective. Reading is subjective. Award judging is subjective. And then there’s the cost. Would I feel the same if I hadn’t won?

Knowing all this in advance, I felt it worthwhile to enter. Award competitions offer a range of benefits, tangible and intangible. Here are a few that come to mind:

  • Judge feedback – Competitions generally provide feedback on each entry. Whether an entry wins or not, it’s useful to get the input on how to improve.
  • Winning provides validation of yourself as a writer. You’ve slaved away for years on that book; it feels good to know someone else thought all that effort worthwhile.
  • The award on your book cover offers a third-party endorsement for readers. I know I look closer at books that tout an award sticker.
  • The award news is a tool to keep book buzz going – with media, at book talks, in cocktail conversation.

Can any of that be connected to specific book sales? Sometimes, but often not.

The cover of "Go Away Home" sports an award medallion.

The cover of “Go Away Home” sports an award medallion.

I chose to enter my novel Go Away Home in three competitions: Readers’ Favorite, Writer’s Digest Self Publishing Competition, and the Next Generation Indie Book Awards. I chose these three based on the reputation of the organizations and the recommendations of authors with more experience. My total investment in these entries was $250. The results so far:

  • Readers’ Favorite – 2014 silver medal in historical fiction.
  • Writer’s Digest – I did not win, but I did receive thoughtful judge comments that I am using in book promotion.
  • Next Generation – The jury is still out; I won’t hear until May 2015.

While few awards can make an author’s career – the Pulitzer Prize comes to mind – most awards are simply one element in an author’s overall marketing effort.

It’s unrealistic to point to any one activity and tag it with the success or failure of a product. Marketing is cumulative. Marketing can also be expensive. A book competition entry: $75 – $150. A blog tour: $100 – $300 or more. A single ebook promotion: $14 – $1,700.

Each author has to decide what she or he can afford to invest in getting the word out. Then evaluate whether that expenditure was worthwhile in the overall scope of the entire marketing effort. Marketing is part art, part science, and always more effective when it starts with clear goals, a plan, and evaluation that leads to a better plan the next time.

I’ve made expenditures I can tie more directly to book sales than I can the money spent on these awards, but so far I’m not disappointed I made the investment. I enjoyed meeting other authors at the Readers’ Favorite award presentation in Miami. My husband and I piggybacked a beach vacation on the trip. And books are selling. It’s all good.

What do you think? Do awards matter when you buy books? Have you entered award competitions? If so, why and what did you see as the value? If any? Would you do it again? I’d like to hear your thoughts.