Over the past week or so, I've gotten a number of questions about a brand new contest/award that is advertising itself heavily across the Internet: the Next Generation Indie Book Awards.
Open to English-language books produced by independent authors and publishers anywhere in the world, the contest offers 70 different entry categories and cash prizes totaling $3,500. Other benefits for finalists and winners include a listing in a catalog that will be distributed at BEA 2008, a listing on the awards' website, the opportunity for winners and finalists to purchase gold award stickers for their books, and review of the top 70 books for possible representation by established literary agent Marilyn Allen of Allen O'Shea Literary Agency.
Money, exposure, literary agency review--what's not to like?
For one thing, the entry fee. Entrants must pay $75 per title, plus an additional $50 per category if they want to enter their book in more than one category. That's steep.
For another, who's judging this award? It's promised that the panel of judges will include "expert editors, writers and publishers in the book publishing industry"--but there's no indication as to who these experts are. That's information you definitely want to have when considering whether to enter an award or contest--especially an expensive one--since the prestige of an award/contest depends in part on the judges' credentials. If you don't know who the judges are, you can't tell whether they are qualified to provide professional opinions--nor can any agents or editors you're hoping to impress.
There's also the time span. According to the call for entries, the entry process must be complete by March 21, 2008. On the Awards page, it's stated that finalists will be selected by May 15. That's just over seven weeks to evaluate a contestant pool that, given the extensive advertising, is likely to number in the hundreds, if not a thousand or more. An important factor in a award/contest's prestige is the rigorousness of the judging process. Even given the likelihood that poor presentation or poor writing will quickly disqualify many of the books, seven weeks doesn't allow much time for rigor. When I served as a World Fantasy Awards judge in 2006, we received between 400 and 500 books; we started reading at the beginning of February and didn't select our finalists until the beginning of July.
Also important--who is behind this award? Another source of award/contest prestige is the prestige of the sponsoring group--but in this case, a lack of available information makes that difficult to determine. According to the award website, the sponsor is something called the Independent Book Publishing Professionals Group, whose singularly uninformative one-page website identifies it as "an organization that aims to promote professional standards in independent book publishing...and provide support and recognition for the independent book publishing profession." The IBPPG claims to have started up in 2005--although, puzzlingly, its domain name wasn't registered until November 2007--but there's no staff list, no membership list, and no sign-up information for prospective members. Instead, anyone who is interested is instructed to "return to this site next month for more information and a membership application."
The brand-new IBAs (to coin an acronym) bear a strong resemblance to the more established IPPYs (the Independent Publisher Book Awards). Both are targeted to independent publishers and self-published authors. Both have a large number of categories--70 for IBA, 65 for IPPY. Both have high entry fees--$75 for IBA, $85 for IPPY. Neither names its judges. Both have short judging periods: March 21-May 15 for IBA, April 1-May 9 for IPPY. Both have scheduled their "reveals" for BEA 2008--IBA with a catalog, IPPY with a gala awards ceremony. And for both, the awards look to be a moneymaker. In its Application Guidelines, IPPY reveals that it received over 1,500 entries for last year's awards; at $85 a pop (more if the entrant decided to enter one of the regional contests as well), that's a minimum gross of over $125,000.
There are also significant differences: IBA's cash awards (IPPY has none), IBA's promise of literary agency review for its top books (IPPY's top books must settle for the honor of winning), and IBA's wider territory (it's open to English-language writers worldwide, while IPPY is limited to North America). Given the slighly larger number of entry categories and the slightly lower entry fee, it's hard not to wonder whether upstart IBA is attempting to move in on more established IPPY's territory.
We know who sponsors IPPY--the Jenkins Group, a custom publisher/book producer--but, as pointed out above, IBA's sponsor is something of a cypher. So I decided to do a bit of digging.
Googling "Independent Book Publishing Professionals Group" turns up its website, the IBA website, some press releases and blog entries on the IBAs--and a site called FabJob.com, which describes itself as "the world's leading publisher of information about dream careers", and sells guides for job hunters with titles like Become a Celebrity Personal Assistant and Become a Published Writer. Note the similarity between the Fabjob website and the IBPPG website (oh, those purple bars). The IBPPG's domain name is registered anonymously--but its IP address is identical to FabJob's. And here's the clincher: the Calgary, AB contact address for the FabJob Privacy Officer (provided on FabJob's Privacy page--scroll down to the bottom) also appears on the IBA's Contact page.
Which raises the question--if the IBAs and the IBPPG are projects of FabJob Inc., why not just say so?
I don't intend to imply that there is anything illicit or suspect about FabJob, the IBPPG, or the IBAs. However, the basic question writers need to ask themselves when considering whether to enter an award or contest is, "Is it worth it?" Given the newness of the IBAs, the uncertainty as to their prestige, and especially the size of the entry fee, writers might want to adopt a "wait and see" approach to this one.