Friday, February 29, 2008

Victoria Strauss -- 2008 Indie Book Awards

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.

30 comments:

Anonymous said...

Totally appreciate the thorough digging and presentation you always offer. And I think your final paragraph says it all.

But it does not seem from your article that these contests are specifically trying to hide something or con people. It's pretty obvious that for the fee, the entrant would be hoping to get some minor publicity and possibly the dubious prestige of winning an unknown contest.

But as you've pointed out, these are pretty new. With many prudent authors taking the "wait and see" approach, suppose I entered and won. Then suppose the contest gained prestige over the next year or three. Every group has to start somewhere. Yahoo was pooh-poohed at first, and AOL was initially seen as the cute little upstart that would never amount to much. With the growth in these groups and their prestige, wouldn't my win also increase in prestige?

There may be many ways to invest my $85 for a better return, but it would seem to me the possible upside of this gamble may be worth it for the relatively low investment. As long as there's no insidious relinquishing of rights by entering.

Don't get me wrong--I think you've presented the information and your recommendation in exactly the way I would want you to. Since life is really an exercise in risk management, though, it seems to me that if you've got $85 to spare and a book that qualifies, you just might want to go in for it while others are taking that wait-see approach.

Full disclosure: I have no affiliation with any of these groups or contests, and I have no book that would qualify for consideration. I'm just a guy who's curious as to your opinion on this question.

Anonymous said...

There are days when I really regret that I'm an ethical person, because it is so darn easy to make a fortune off of wanna-be authors.

Jenkins is one of those guys who earns money promoting the glories of self-publishing when all he's ever published seems to be books about self-publishing. That's a bit too recursive for my blood.

But the explosive growth of the industry milking clueless authors shows that some folks have finally figured out where the real money is in publishing.

Snow said...

Thanks for clearing this up for us. As always you are fanominal!
I had come across it a while back and because the fee was so darn high, I hesitated on sending anything in. Good thing, wasn't feeling it too much.

Anyway thank you for the great work that you do for us.

Snow

Kristi Holl said...

Great post! I've been wondering lately why so many otherwise smart writers get bamboozled by vanity presses and the like. Then last week I marked in my newest Writer's Digest Magazine the couple dozen full or half-page ads for subsidy presses. I couldn't believe it! I was so disappointed to see that a magazine I've read for years and respected would help would-be authors get duped like that. It helped explain why they get hooked though. This professional magazine makes them look like legitimate publishers.

mlh said...

I have to agree with Kristi Holl.

Last month, I picked up my local Sunday newspaper and there in the business section was an article touting the benefits of POD publishing saying it was "The new digital age for aspiring writers." The whole article seemed more of a sales pitch than an unbiased report. You couldn't begin to count the number of times it threw in the words "traditional publishing," and that this was an avenue for stogy, can't-get-with-the-times, oldsters.

Anonymous said...

Kristi,

WD has been promoting sleazy crap as long as I've been involved with publishing, which was back in the mid-80s.

I also have had friends who wrote for them on a regular basis and taught courses for them, and it is worse noting that back when people were making livings freelancing, WD paid the lowest freelance rates I had ever heard of. Their pay for teachers--who were often excellent authors--was abysmal too.

Years ago, after building a successful career as an author of how-to books, I sent them a proposal for a book about how to write and market how-to books.

They returned the proposal saying that such a book wouldn't appeal to their readership as my fundamental point was that you had to have mastered an area of expertise and their readership mostly hadn't.

In short, they market almost exclusively to people who haven't a hope of succeeding at publishing--who are precisely those most likely to fall for scams.

And yes, there has been a lot of media stories in the news of late that seem to be nothing more than reading press releases from Lulu et al. Even NPR fell for the idea that the 200,000 books "published" ever year was a huge increase and meant something more than that 150,000 people had fallen for a "become an author for only $2,000" swindle.

Anonymous said...

This blog is great.
Thanks for doing it
and for sharing the
information.

Terry Finley

http://terryrfinley.blogspot.com/

goddess in the groove said...

Thank you for your digging! I just self-published a book, and a well meaning reader sent me the "indie" website. It looks fabulous, at first, but I was bothered by the fact that there were no real contacts, nothing behind the glitz. So I Googled for the 2007 awards to see who had won and what had become of thier books, and instead I found your blog.

I appreciate all the views. I think now I will wait and see and search for other venues to expose my book.

Greetings,
Heike Sharp
www.goddessinthegroove.com

Anonymous said...

$3,500 in prizes and 70 categories... doesn't that work out to a $50 prize for each category winner? And It costs $75 to enter?

Please point if I'm totally missing how these things work but I don't get it.

Anonymous said...

I entered and won. When I first read this blog, I felt suckered, but now that I've won I realized that another sticker on the book (in addition to the IPPY award I won) could go along way to sell the book. If we were attracted to the award, think about book buyers who will be too.

I've misspent much more on marketing firms and publicists for less bang.

I'm sure the firm did very well.

Anonymous said...

I won, too. I suspect everyone who enters wins.

Victoria Strauss said...

I'm getting a bunch of hits on this post from people searching on this award. From that, and also from the two comments above, I'm guessing that the winners' notices have been sent out.

I see that the award website is now inviting submissions for the 2009 awards. However, although one of the promised benefits of winning is "Exposure for a full year at www.IndieBookAwards.com as a Winner or Finalist," there's no sign as yet of any winners' lists.

Has anyone who won actually gotten any prize money?

Anonymous said...

Marilyn Allen (sp?) of Allen Oshea Lirterary Agency is named as one of the senior members of the group reviewing the books. As for the fee, I don't think that is an automatic disqualifier since the Pulitzer also charges a $50 fee and is open basically to ANYONE who can fill out the form. The proof is in the quality of the work they select, correct? Some of the Pulitzer choices over the years were not that great; maybe they were dry years or something. If the Indie selects premium work, then what is the beef? I was recently notifed by my publisher that I won a specific category in the 2009 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. I did not enter the book, but I am sure my publisher did and I am thrilled to have won. What amazes me is the level of unbridled snark dished out here; it isn't healthy skepticism it's just snark. Maybe people aren't writing enough and are spending way too much time finding little things to complain about.

Anonymous said...

The National Book Awards charge $125 per entry and the American Book Awards were the fresh upstarts a few years ago in response to the stodgy politics rife throughout the National Book Award selection process. Politics in awarding prizes to writers? Dear Me!

Casey Quinlan said...

Reminds me of the Famous Writers bullcrap from decades ago, which Jessica Mitford made famous in "Let Us Now Appraise Famous Writers". The pitch was this - send us money, we'll make you a famous writer, taught by our faculty of famous writers. It was, of course, complete bull.

Almost comforting, in a way, that scams have changed so little...!

C. Goulet said...

Hi Victoria,

Thank you for the work that you do. It is greatly appreciated by all of us in the publishing industry. I understand that you recently wrote to Marilyn Allen to verify the legitimacy of the Next Generation Indie Book Awards and she advised that not only is it a legitimate contest but one that is run both professionally and honorably and the individuals behind this awards program are committed to the publishing industry. It would be great to see some of Marilyn's comments up at your site.

Also, we appreciate everyone's patience in our inaugural year of the Indie Book Awards. Even with a staff that included a web developer, awards co-ordinator, designer, marketer, administrative assistance and help from many others, we have found this to be a very time consuming yet worthwhile experience for all involved.

Hopefully your readers will appreciate that with all of the costs to run this awards program, including paying staff time, web development and design, administrative fees, judging honorariums (at $75 per category), advertising fees, prize fees ($3,500), trophies ($80 each), medals ($6 each x 70), certificates, shipping costs to get books to and from judges, costs to mailout awards, having a booth-share arrangement at Book Expo America, printing 10,000 catalogs and paying to have countertop registration handout of the catalogs at Book Expo America, working with Marilyn Allen, Literary Agent, and assuring that the top 70 books are sent to her for review, etc., etc., this was most definitely a non-profit awards program. However, the idea was not to profit but to run an awards program where books are actually read and reviewed by judges and the entrants receive the benefits back from the program!

A number of us involved with Independent Book Publishing Professionals Group had experienced other awards programs in the past and questioned whether any of our books were even read by the judges. We felt that there was a need for a program that would really benefit the entrants and not the company putting it on. We are very happy to have been in a position to put on such a program even at a cost to us!

Thank you to everyone who expressed their concerns and thank you also for your patience while we finalize the details for this year's program. We have been working around the clock to finalize the catalog to make sure it is at Book Expo America next week for distribution!

Also, we encourage all entrants to become members of Independent Book Publishing Professionals Group (IBPPG) at no cost. As independent publishers in the book publishing industry, we need to work together and keep the professionalism strong while also keeping ethical practices in our industry. Unfortunately, we have not had the time and resources to update the IBPPG website while running the awards program over the last few months. However, we will be updating the IBBPG website to include much more information once the dust settles with this year's awards program and as time permits.

Thank you once again to everyone with queries and wishing you much success with your books.

C. Goulet
Awards Co-Ordinator
Next Generation Indie Book Awards

P.S. Prize money, trophies and medals will be sent out in June.

P.P.S. Also, one last note. Everyone who enters does not win. Unfortunately, many books that entered did not meet the judges' criteria.

Victoria Strauss said...

Ms. Goulet,

A belated thanks for your detailed comment. I really appreciate the information.

I did indeed contact Marilyn Allen of Allen O'Shea, and she was kind enough to respond. She didn't give me permission to quote her, but she confirmed that the contest is legit, and also that she and her partner will be reviewing the finalists with an eye to possible representation, or referral if the work isn't in their genre.

Your explanation of the costs involved with the award do go a long way toward explaining the high entry fee. May I suggest that you consider adding this explanation to your website? Not only would it provide information that I think entrants have the right to know, it might help to attract more serious entrants.

May I also suggest that you consider naming the contest judges on your website? One of the more important indications of a contest's prestige/legitimacy is the prestige and experience of the judges, and it's one of the criteria writers should be able to weigh when considering whether to enter a contest.

Thanks again for stopping by.

Shawn Rohrbach said...

I am the winner of the Indie Book Award in the category of Fiteness/Sport/Recreation for my book "Open Your heart with Bicycling..." The medal arrived on July 1. It's not a Nobel, but I like it. My category did not win a cash prize, so I cannot speak to that.

Matthew Peterson said...

My book, Paraworld Zero, became a finalist in the science fiction/fantasy category, so I'm not upset that I entered. I'm finding that a lot of book contests are pricey. I've entered 4 book contests so far and placed in 3 of them. I sometimes wonder if almost everyone "places" in these things. There sure were a lot of finalists.

wicked sunny said...

I have recently won a finalist award for my poetry book in USA Best Books Awards (USABookNews.com) and I do recommend that if you are an Indie book writer you should take part in these contests.

If you have a unique and different book, it increases your chance of winning or at least getting short listed.

Any kind of award will help you in future, major publishing houses will get more interested in publishing your books.

something is good than nothing at all.

I am in India and it costs me 5 times more, 75$ will amount to 3800 INR to me, yet I take part in such contests and they do help in promoting the book.

Victoria Strauss said...

My feeling is that the USABookNews contest is an entry fee scheme. There's a high entry fee, a myriad of categories, and no prize to speak of. I very much doubt that winning or placing in this contest will carry any clout with a reputable agent or publisher.

E. Shay said...

I found this Blog very helpful, but it would be even more helpful if other independent publishers or self-publishers out there would weigh in on what they consider to be the best, most legitimate and prestigious contests to enter.

The self-published book I am trying to market fits easily into more than one category, and I have already entered it in 5 contests, several categories apiece, which quickly adds up to a lot of money. I think our book has a good chance of winning or placing, and we need the exposure and credibility that hopefully would come from having some awards under our belt -- but it's hard to know which ones are legit. Most seem to have an agenda -- ie. promoting their own services, like the IPPYs. And I haven't found any that actually name their judges.

So besides ForeWord, are there any other contests anyone would recommend? Does anyone have any comments on the Eric Hoffer Awards or the International Self-Published Book Awards? Has anyone ever heard of the National Indie Excellence Awards (NIEA)? We finalled in the USABookNews awards in both categories that we entered our book in, and felt that with so many winners and finalists, it really cheapened the event, and made it seem as if this was a strictly money-making venture as someone on this blog has already suggested.

Wouldn't it be nice if part of what you got as a winner and/or finalist in one of these contests was a genuine personal evaluation/review of your book that proves someone actually READ it -- and that you could use for marketing purposes?

C. Goulet said...

Hello Victoria,

Well it has been almost a year since I last commented at your website.

I wanted to let you know that the Next Generation Indie Book Awards (www.IndieBookAwards.com) took some of your advice and we have now listed a number of the judges for this years Next Generation Indie Book Awards. We respect the fact that some of the judges prefer to remain anonymous. You can view a list of some of the 2009 judges at: http://www.indiebookawards.com/judges.php

Additionally, we have noted who sponsors the Indie Book Awards program on the www.IBPPG website. We are looking for additional sponsors at this time.

We remain proud of the fact that the Next Generation Indie Book Awards is one of the only "not-for-profit" book awards programs that we are aware of. All of the entry fees go towards running the awards program including prizes and, more importantly, promotion of winners and finalists.

This is the second year of the program and it has taken the involvement of ten staff members (time donated from almost all) to run the program.

What amazes us is that in this industry there is a very large book awards program run by a company (no names mentioned), where an individual sent an email (when the company I was working with had entered the awards program a few years ago), advising that he was busy trying to get through reviewing the more than 1,500 books they had received. We know that it is impossible for one person to do this within a two month time span. A large team of judges is definitely required to make sure that all books are reviewed thoroughly! It was because of this realization that our books were not being thoroughly reviewed that we started the Next Generation Indie Book Awards program.

Any author or independent publisher who takes the time to put their book forward in an awards program, deserves to have their book thoroughly reviewed! Not only that, the awards program should benefit the participants, particularly the winners and finalists, not the company putting on the awards program.

IBPPG would like to see the Next Generation Indie Book Awards become the "Sundance" of book awards programs. We will continue to work towards that.

We will continue to work within the indie publishing industry to promote independent publishers!

Thank you once again for everything you do within this industry!

C. Goulet
Awards Co-ordinator
www.IndieBookAwards.com

P.S. In case anyone is interested, I am sorry to say that we are no longer accepting entries for the 2009 awards program.

Victoria Strauss said...

Ms. Goulet, thanks for your comment and the information. It's great that you've posted bios of some of your judges. Here's a link to that page.

Matthew Peterson said...

Thanks for posting the link to the judges. That really does help build the credibility of the contest. My book, Paraworld Zero, has placed in or won over 10 contest so far, but I could only see a spike in book sales from a few of the contests. They have, however, opened doors for me.

Now I just discovered that some of the organizations charge licensing fees if you want to put their logos/awards on your book, which ironically is an advertisement for the contest. Foreword Magazine wants $100, and that's not too bad, but some of the others want between a $500 and $600 licensing fee. One even charges $100 (which they call a “nominal fee”) for you to put the award emblem on your website. Ridiculous! They want to charge me for advertising their contest on my website? Reminds me of the company who wanted me to pay them money so I could quote from the review they gave my book. That's a whole side of the business I didn't realize existed. It really makes me wonder if some of these companies might base their judging decisions on whether you've got deep enough pockets to pay their licensing fees. Maybe I’m being too cynical, or maybe the poor economy is getting to me. Regardless, I do see value in contests like the Next Generation Indie Book Awards (They give close to $4,000 in cash and medals, plus possible representation from an agent).

As a side note, my book just became a Foreword Magazine finalist, but I don’t think I’ll pay the licensing fee unless it becomes an actual winner, especially since I already have another award emblem on the cover.

To answer E. Shay, I think the ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Awards and the ibpa (PMA) Benjamin Franklin Awards are the most prestigious ones for small press books.
http://www.ibpa-online.org/pubresources/benfrank.aspx
http://forewordmagazine.com/awards/ (gives $3000 in cash awards)

tonya said...

Sorry I'm posting here so late. It's that time of year when all the contests are announcing their winners and I just found this blog! Isn't one way to determine the prestige of an indie contest to look at the prior winners and finalists? If Grove Atlantic, Other Press, Princeton University Press, etc. are entering, then can you assume it's a prestigious contest?

PAMELA said...

I've read the article and the posts here; some good, some bad, and it seems that some people are missing the point.

Sure there's an entrance fee. People don't do anything for free in this world.

I just won the Great Lakes Region Silver Medal in the IPPY awards for HOUSES OF CARDS. The contest is a tool to promote my book. I'll put the stickers on my book and it will look impressive. People can go to a web site and see it listed. That's worth the entrance fee to me.

I guess the question I'd like to ask here is...Did anyone reading this post enter the contest and not win? If they give everyone an award that does dilute my elation, but it's still a tool to sell my book.

thanks
Pamela Frost
Houses of Cards

Dot Ryan said...

I agree with Pamela; these contests are tools with which to promote one's book and are well worth the fees.

My Historical Romance novel, Corrigans' Pool, is a Finalist in the 2010 Next Generation Indie Book Awards and I am already reaping the rewards; one of which is increased interest in my website. Also, being a Finalist has inspired me to attend BEA in New York next week, which I had not planned on doing until I received word of my Finalist status. Who knew it would take something like that to make me take a vacation after 25 years!

Thanks a million, Next Generation Indie Book Awards!

Dot Ryan
Corrigans' Pool

Anonymous said...

I do not think this contest can hurt a writer, and not yet decided how much it can help sell more books, but it does help. I believe it gives a writer a rush, and if it encourages and inspires writers that becomes a value added to enter regardless if one wins or not. It can be fun and exciting too and, and The Next Generation of Indie Book Award presents itself better than the IPPY. If writers want to purchase additional awards the IPPY sells their medals, the kind one wear around their neck, over one hundred dollars more than the
Next Generation of Indie Book Award. It’s too costly to enter both contest and Next Generation of Indie Book Award seems to be the better choice. The only wrinkle, if not a scar, is a book sent through a spell check yet no copyediting or proofreading can become a winner of Next Generation of Indie Book Award, and that is unfair to authors who edited and proof read their work. I could not agree more with Ms. Strauss when she noted that not enough time is spent in the reading process of judging these books. Hopefully that will change.

Chris Hollaway said...

I spend $75-$85 a month at the sandwich shop where I get most of my writing done. The sum itself is not so much an issue as is the effectiveness. They should have a book contest contest to figure out which is the best, then I'd probably pony up the dough.