Friday, November 15, 2013

Awards Profiteering: The Book Festival Empire of JM Northern Media

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

If you're a writer, I'll bet you've been spammed by JM Northern Media.

Don't recognize the name? Maybe these will ring a bell. The Los Angeles Book Festival. The Hollywood Book Festival. The Paris Book Festival. The Beach Book Festival. The Halloween Book Festival. Animals, Animals, Animals Book Festival. And at least nine other annal festivals, all owned and operated by JM Northern Media (click the Properties tab).

Why, you might ask, would one company own so many book festivals? To make money, of course. JM Northern's "festivals" aren't really festivals at all, but textbook examples of a moneymaking awards program. Here's the M.O.

- Solicitation. To maximize entries, moneymaking awards programs do email blasts. JM Northern is no exception--if you get on its list you'll be relentlessly spammed with calls for entry to any or all of its fifteen "festivals."

- High entry fees. For all but the Hollywood Book Festival, which charges $75, entrants must pay "a non-refundable entry fee of $50 in the form of a check, money order or PayPal online payment in U.S. dollars for each submission."

- Lots of entry categories. To maximize income, moneymaking awards programs create as many entry categories as possible, and encourage multiple entries. JM Northern's festivals all have 15 or more entry categories--actually rather modest for such programs, but that's offset by how many of them there are. Plus, you can get 10% off by entering more than one festival at a time!

- Opportunities to spend more money. Moneymaking awards programs' profits don't just come from entry fees. They also hawk award stickers, certificates, critiques, and more.

On its festivals' entry forms, JM Northern asks writers to indicate whether they'll be willing to buy "promotional items" or critiques--to be provided, I'm guessing, by JM Northern's own Modern Media Publicity, which sells said promotional items ("Nothing says free advertising like a quality t-shirt or coffee mug") as well as "Regular" ($150) and "Deluxe" ($350) critiques by "by our staff of authors, publishers, festival judges, filmmakers and agents" (unnamed, of course). JM Northern also maintains a "book marketing portal" called Table of Honor, where festival winners and honorees can pay $75 per title to list their books.

Let's do the math. According to this article, the Hollywood Book Festival received 2,740 entries in 2012. At $75 per entry, that's a gross of $205,500. Let's assume that the other 14 festivals, with a lower fee, also get a lower number of entries--say, 1,500 (I'm lowballing to demonstrate how insanely lucrative this scheme is). Altogether, that's over $1.25 million just in entry fees. A year. When you add in revenue from the critiques, the merchandise, and the marketing, it wouldn't surprise me to learn that JM Northern's annual festival gross is $2 million or more.

- Anonymous judging. JM Northern's festivals promise judging by "a panel of industry experts," but don't reveal who those experts are. This is typical of moneymaking awards programs, where the judges are usually not the experienced professionals promised in the publicity material, but rather the program's staff, who may simply pick winners out of a hat.

- Negligible prizes. To avoid cutting into their profits, moneymaking awards programs typically offer prizes that cost them little or nothing: press releases, media announcements, printed certificates, website listings, features on satellite websites they themselves own, donated items, and, of course, the supposed prestige that comes from being able to claim that you're an "award-winning author."

Here's where JM Northern differs a little from the norm. Winners and placers in the various entry categories get (at least according to pictorial evidence) nothing but a framed certificate. But JM Northern does sponsor actual awards ceremonies, and the grand prize winner for each festival receives an "appearance fee"--between $500 and $1,500, depending on which festival--plus a plane ticket to whatever city is hosting the ceremony.

The festivals' websites name winners, so I emailed several of the grand prize recipients to verify that they'd received their prizes. I heard back from three. All reported that they did receive a check (in one case, after a delay), along with a plaque. Only one accepted the plane ticket and attended the ceremony--a relatively bare-bones snack-and-cocktails affair at which he gave an acceptance speech and category winners and honorees received certificates. He also confirmed that there was no actual book festival, in the sense of an event with speakers, exhibitors, and a variety of events--just the ceremony, along with a display of the honorees' books 

What about prestige? Moneymaking awards don't typically command a lot of name recognition (two of the grand prize winners I spoke with told me that even their publishers, which had submitted their books, had never heard of the festivals before)--but if you win or place, you'll be able to tag your book as an "award-winning book" and yourself as an "award-winning author." How much readers care about such designations, though, is an open question. With all the fake review scandals, as well as readers' increasing disillusion with authorial self-promotion, I think book buyers have become more cynical in general about what authors say about themselves.

Moneymaking awards, which overwhelmingly target and ensnare small press and self-published authors, are a cynical play on authors' hunger for recognition and exposure in an increasingly crowded marketplace. JM Northern is by far the most prolific of these schemes, but there are many others. In my opinion, they are never a worthwhile use of writers' (or publishers') money.

JM Northern Media's empire includes several other moneymaking properties, including the DIY Convention and the YPE International Summit. It's run by journalist and author Bruce Haring.

19 comments:

suzanne jenkins said...

Well, I'm embarrassed to admit I got sucked in and entered a book in the San Fransisco Book Festival. Just when I was thinking I'm a savvy book marketer....live and learn. I wrote to this email address bruce@jmnorthernmedia.com asking for an explanation. If I don't hear, I'm going to get my money back via paypal.

thehorrorzine said...

Victoria, you are my heroine. Thanks for your diligence in protecting writers.
Jeani Rector, Editor
The Horror Zine

suzanne jenkins said...

A follow up to my comment; I contacted Bruce. He said I hadn't heard from him because I didn't download my book properly. I asked for a refund and he promptly contacted Paypal and I received the refund.

Thank you for alerting writers to these scams. I really appreciate it.

Lilian Gafni said...

Thank you Victoria for this post.Years ago, I attended the Los Angeles Festival of Books. I paid my vendor fees to an individual calling himself organizer, and fifteen authors, including myself, were stuffed into a small tent. I sold that day two books. My point here is that someone calling himself an organizer collected our moneys, made a profit for himself and paid the festival fees. Live and learn.

Sam Moffie said...

I entered the New York Book festival. Paid the fees, won a second prize and was intrigued that the event would be held at the famed Algonquin Hotel. Went to the even, because my daughter lived right near it and a great time partying with my wife in the bar. The event was anti-climatic, the food stunk, and it was a cash bar. Most of the other contestants were bigger suckers than I was and paid all sorts of outrageous sums for trinkets. Thanks for the column Victoria.

Victoria Strauss said...

Thanks so much to those of you who are commenting on your experience with these festivals--it confirms everything I've heard about them, and is a great cautionary resource for other authors.

Monette said...

I entered twice - the first time my novel won first place in its category and I received a free copy of First Draft software. I thought it odd, because even though I am a screenwriter, they didn't know that and how many others would have appreciated it? On the other hand, I don't think I expected anything. I have done worse scams - such as the screenwriting contest just for the sake of the guy earning money for the Cannes Film Fest. It does seem, too, like they have way too many of these contests and people are catching on. Thanks for posting this.

Regina Glei said...

Thanks for your article on JM Northern Media.
I made an "honorable mention" in San Francisco, a "runner up" in New
York and a "category winner" in London with them before finally
realizing they are scam.
I have taken the award tokens, (which I paid for) off my web-site by now.
The "awards" have helped me nil................
It's sad that there are so many sharks out there........
Thanks for keeping up writer beware blogs!
With best regards
Regina

Victoria Strauss said...

I wondered about those digital "tokens," Regina--I saw them on a number of authors' websites when I was researching this post. Pretty amazing that you had to pay for them! Yet another way for a program like this to make a profit.

Anonymous said...

My experience has been that nearly every book contest request and earns money and JM is and should not be any different. I have found JM Northern to be very supportive and at time has even comp costs to me.

"All" of the ceremonies ( New York, New England, San Fran, HollyWood, LA, Chicago) have been in very profession, in beautiful settings with excellent all you can dining and open bar.

The quality of the writers winning and in attendance have been high. I have made many many good writer friends who have been especially supportive. I have won 2 Grand prizes and have been paid in full both times. I have also been awarded airfare for both wins; flying from the east coast to the west coast. J.M. Northern have been nothing but totally supportive to my career. Their earning money is something they have a right to just as many of us are trying to advance our literary career to amongst other achievements, earn money. People have the right to earn a little- small or large.

Personally JM has helped launch my career and exposure national and internationally. In a smug literary world where the good old boys and ivy tower academia have systematically kept writers out unless they conform and pay, JM is a fresh breath of air, providing many of us an opportunity and a stage to stand upon. I recommend JM to all writers . And I will continue to participate in his book contests for a chance to win but more importantly the opportunity to meet and befriend some of the most beautiful writers in the country.

Victoria Strauss said...

Anonymous,

Thanks for your comment. However, it'd carry more weight if you'd written it under your own real name. I invite you to return and let us know who you are.

Anonymous said...

This is a biased site. They pre-screening all posts and only allowing through those post that align with their agenda.

the scam may be Writer Beware.

Anonymous said...

This site selecting which comments - most those that fit with its agenda - for posting and those that do not, they are being screened out. This is not honest journalism and reporting. It is more like a witch hunt, a vendetta ?

I suggest you interview JM northern with some its winners and attendees

Your commentary reflects that you are poorly informed and appears to mask another agenda particularly since you are screening out those comments that do not align with your mis-informed comments.

Trish said...

How odd that Anonymous should accuse the site of only allowing comments that agree with the author's opinion (or the facts as she lays them out), when Anonymous's opinions are being published alongside all the others.

And please forgive me if this sounds pedantic, but Anonymous makes an awful lot of grammatical errors to be a multiple award-winning author.

Thank you, Victoria, for your diligent investigation into this and other contests and 'opportunities' for writers.

Laura Merrill said...

Yes, I thought there were a few too many mistakes there! Anyway, I just "won" in the Nature/Animals category of the Great Southwest Book Festival. I wrote and asked if I would be receiving any free stickers or anything else that was free. Haven't heard back - no surprise. I was researching around to see if this was an award worth proclaiming on my second book, so I'm glad I found this blog. I won't bother to mention the award, and certainly won't ever enter this guys contests again. Thanks for your information and opinions.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous is resubmitting and stands by it. These festival contest have given me great national and international exposure. Nearly every book contest has an entry fee. Pulitzer with multiple categories has a $50 entry fee per. Bruce has been one the most consistent and stead-fast support of me and my work at no extra cost or sticker purchases. I have never been pressure to purchase anything other than the entry fee and there have been times Bruce has waived fees to the award ceremony dinners which are very very nice !!

...
My experience has been that nearly every book contest request and earns money and JM is and should not be any different. I have found JM Northern to be very supportive and at time has even comp costs to me.

"All" of the ceremonies ( New York, New England, San Fran, HollyWood, LA, Chicago) have been in very profession, in beautiful settings with excellent all you can dining and open bar.

The quality of the writers winning and in attendance have been high. I have made many many good writer friends who have been especially supportive. I have won 2 Grand prizes and have been paid in full both times. I have also been awarded airfare for both wins; flying from the east coast to the west coast. J.M. Northern have been nothing but totally supportive to my career. Their earning money is something they have a right to just as many of us are trying to advance our literary career to amongst other achievements, earn money. People have the right to earn a little- small or large.

Personally JM has helped launch my career and exposure national and internationally. In a smug literary world where the good old boys and ivy tower academia have systematically kept writers out unless they conform and pay, JM is a fresh breath of air, providing many of us an opportunity and a stage to stand upon. I recommend JM to all writers . And I will continue to participate in his book contests for a chance to win but more importantly the opportunity to meet and befriend some of the most beautiful writers in the country.

Anonymous said...

Hello, I attended the 2014 SF Book Festival & was excited before the event because I thought that I was going to "mingle" with book industry agents, publishers & other important people. However, it was only authors who attended the events and the food was fairly good with an open bar. Overall, the event was great because I got to meet some interesting authors & listened to how they finally published their book. I didn't pay for any extra services or products I am happy to pay my entry fee because I smile every time I look at my award! What does it matter that a company is making $100 or 1 million from authors who are looking for some recognition? Nobody works for free, stop whining & start writing your next book!

David Hearne said...

I have entered books in these northern media contests and in many others. I am not sure if I understand what the fuss is all about??? Why do you see this as a rip-off?
I have been a winner and a loser in these contests. Winning a contest is just a small piece of making yourself known to the public and anyone who has the illusion that winning any regional or even lesser known national contest will dramatically change your sales, is out of touch with reality. Those who said that they didn't see any uptick in their sales means what? They won an award and just sat there thinking that now they will be read by the world. Winning an award is just one cog in the big media machine. If you do not hype yourself, you should not even be in this game. Someone has to tell others how great you are. The chances of someone reading your book over some writer who is better known is very unlikely and adding a few awards to your name is certainly helpful... Sure it would be nice if you could pick up a Nobel Prize, but be grateful for what you can win. I hope that when I won that piece of paper that they had 10 thousand writers who won zilch. I would bet that most of you who are complaining about this as some type of rip-off do very little to promote yourself. Going to book signings unless you are a celebrity is about as profitable as the day’s earnings of a slave laborer in some third world nation. You have to sell yourself and your book – but most importantly you really must sell yourself. Make your name huge on your books. Your name has to be remembered. I think that northern media contests are no more of a rip-off than paying hundreds of dollars for a review with Kirkus or a foreword review. Bottom line is I would love to know what book contests are out there that are “FREE” where I can submit some of my work – and if I win, get money and a trip to the award’s ceremony and become so important to the literary world that my books fly off the shelves like free 10 oz. bars of gold.

Donna earnhardt said...

SCBWI usually hosts free contests to members. Also highlights for children offers a free contest every year in the magazine category with a cash prize $1,009, I think). Lots of other notable and free contests. Just have to do some digging. You can always submit your manuscripts for free to editors and agents. If they like your work... and offer a contract.... that is a much better deal than a contest win.