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June 9, 2016

BookLife Prize in Fiction

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

I've been getting some questions about the BookLife Prize in Fiction, a new award for unpublished and self-published novels. Prizes include a "brief critical assessment" from Publishers Weekly reviewers for all entrants (BookLife is owned by PW), a book blurb from "a bestselling or award-winning author" for semi-finalists, and a grand prize of $5,000 for a single winner.

BookLife claims to "[tap] the experience, integrity, and authority of Publishers Weekly to help indie authors achieve their goals." It offers a free submission portal for writers who want to submit self-published books for review, along with "editorial content—success stories, interviews, author profiles, how-to pieces, news, and features". There's also a Service Directory, whose DIY entries--some of which are paid ads--are subject to restrictions via BookLife's Terms & Conditions, but otherwise appear to be unvetted. For instance, there are listings for Strategic Book Publishing & Rights Agency (on Writer Beware's Thumbs Down List and long the subject of an Alert on Writer Beware) as well as SBPRA's "marketing" subsidiary, Author Marketing Ideas. As "endorsed" listings, they receive preferential placement. Problem is, in both cases, the "endorsements" are from SBPRA employees.

I've been skeptical of BookLife since its inception, in part because of the failings of the Service Directory, in part because much of its content is generic info widely available on the web, or else reprints from industry bloggers or PW itself. Also, although BookLife is free, the site promotes PW Select, which charges $149 for a listing in PW and "featured" presence on BookLife.

With its multiple judging rounds and the participation of PW reviewers and editors, BookLife's Prize in Fiction is reminiscent of Amazon's (now-discontinued) Breakthrough Novel Award, which was also done in partnership with PW--though the crowdsourcing element is missing (judging in the ABNA was partly based on votes from the public), and there's no publication offer waiting for the winners.

There's another difference as well. Entering the Breakthrough Novel Award was free. Entering BookLife's Prize in Fiction requires a whopping non-refundable entry fee of $99.

A big entry fee like this, as many of you know, is one of the signs of an awards profiteer--an organization that runs writing awards and contests not to honor writers but to make a buck (I've written a lot about such organizations on this blog). So I contacted BookLife to ask why the fee was so high. I quickly heard back from BookLife President Carl Pritzkat, who confirmed what I suspected: part of the fee goes to cover honorariums for the PW reviewers who'll be providing the critiques. But he also told me that "in terms of the entry fee we were modeling it after prizes like Forward Magazine's INDIES ($99 with an early-bird rate of $79), IndieReader's Discovery Awards ($150 for the first category of entry) and IBPA's Benjamin Franklin Awards ($95 per category for members; $225 for non-members)."

I don't suspect BookLife of being an awards profiteer. Apart from the huge entry fee, other warning signs aren't present. But honorariums or no honorariums, $99 is a lot of money, and in light of the large number of cynical awards schemes that seek to profit from aspiring and self-published writers' hunger for recognition and exposure, I have to wonder why BookLife would choose to model itself after IndieReader and its ilk.

The grand prize is a nice chunk of change, and given how much writers have to struggle to obtain worthwhile feedback, author blurbs and reviewer critiques are certainly tempting. But I'd suggest that writers who are considering  this contest do some serious thinking about whether it's worth handing over nearly $100 for a few sentences of feedback and the slim possibility of winning $5,000.

19 comments :

nir said...

Damn. And I just got an email saying they were running late on the feedback. :(

Victoria Strauss said...

When you get the feedback, would you come back and comment? I'm curious about how useful it is. Thanks!Q

Anonymous said...

I paid to submit to them and recently received my feedback. It was a joke. I got three sentences, two of which merely summarized the story. The third sentence trashed everything about it, despite it being well-received by over two dozen readers (average Amazon rating 4.8 over 32 reviews). The "critique" literally had nothing positive to say at all. I understand you're not paying in expectation of a positive review, and that not everyone will like the book, but it would have been nice to have at least one positive thing said. It's such a bad, mean-spirited critique that it's almost funny. But not quite.

Anonymous said...

I've read a lot of blogs (including a few from Booklife reviewers) talking about how their reviewers are paid to intentionally give bad feedback no matter how good a book is. One author actually submitted a NYT Bestselling book with a different cover/author just to see what would happen and low and behold, it got a horrific review too. They are told to not write anything positive because even a single positive sentence can give an author a blurb to use. They intentionally want mean reviews. I saw one where the reviewer began by saying something like "all romance novels are utter crap and I hate them," then went on to negatively review a romance novel.

If you pick up their BookLife review catalog, something like 98-99% of all the reviews are negative. For the most part, the only ones that seem to pop up as a positive review are those reviews where the author paid for some premium review service (one that cost a lot more than $99).

I wish I could find those articles again. I may have to go digging for them. Either way, it sounds very much like a money-grab.

Anonymous said...

I think the above comment is correct. My book got HORRIFIC reviews and it's won 4 national awards!

Greg said...

Unfortunately, the previous post is complete misinformation.

There is no "BookLife review catalog." There is no "premium review service" that exists. Nor are there any "BookLife reviewers."

If you want to look at the types of assessments being given to BookLife Prize in Fiction entries (these assessments are written by Publishers Weekly reviewers), it's easy (these are being posted in real time):

http://booklife.com/prize

These are only the assessments that entrants have chosen to make public, so there are some you can't see that aren't as positive. But as you'll see from the volume and the amount they change, there are many positive, constructive assessments.

T. A. Peters said...

I entered my novel One Little Word in the Booklife Prize for $75 and received a very complimentary review in about two weeks. I read the reviews for all of the other top ten books in my genre and found them to all contain at least some positive feedback even if the reviewer noted unfavorable aspects as well. I don't know if they are still offering the discount (when I entered you got $24 off if you had a free Booklife webpage) but it seemed like a pretty good deal to get a written assessment including categorical scoring as opposed to many awards contests in which you enter and never even hear how you stacked up against the competition unless you won. The one thing that would be nice is if they would reveal who was doing the individual reviews instead of it being a nameless PW reviewer, but all things considered based on my experience it seemed like a genuine awards contest.

http://booklife.com/project/one-little-word-a-mary-fisher-novel-12969

Theresa said...

I was emailed by the President, Carl Pritzkat a week or so ago, apologizing to me about the delay in receiving my review from my Booklife prize entry. According to him, the person who was reviewing my entry quit or "Dropped out". I was told it would be around two weeks before they would be able to send me my critique. I received that critique today and was completely stunned at the terrible review my book received. My book is a cozy mystery and the person who reviewed it was under the mistaken impression that it was a thriller. In fact, the whole review was based on the fact that the reviewer thought my book was too light-hearted and the crimes not taken seriously enough to be a thriller. I don't have a problem with honest reviews but I feel that since they couldn't even get the genre straight and the first reviewer dropped out, that my book was rushed through and wasn't judged fairly. I entered this same book in the Writer's Digest 2nd annual ebook awards and received 5s and 4s as my score and received a great review. I will never enter another contest or even consider paying for advertising with Booklife after this experience.

JD Nelson said...

Well, I may as well just echo ALL of the previous posts. Three sentences, two just a summary, the other stating that it dragged in the middle. Really? Tell me how I'm supposed to post that? I too got that the reviewers dropped out. 3 weeks turned into 2 months.

If you don't like my book, that's fair. But this was clearly never read. My 40+ reviews on Amazon far outweigh this. I'm very upset and feel royally ripped off.

Anonymous said...

I submitted a book for the contest. The critique I received makes me wonder if the book was read at all. There is a very large factual error in the review. I saw that there were some very harsh reviews and was prepping for a possible negative review. But I didn't expect a review that seems to evidence the book was not read.

Anonymous said...

I submitted 5-6 weeks ago and received a review today. That's what I expected. "5.25" overall rating disappointed me greatly. My book is pre-order at this stage (wanted some buzzwords for the e-cover at launch) and this review didn't really help me with that. It was highly negative and completely missed the character growth by claiming the "Prose was inconsistent." I vetted the prose with a beta group of 30+ to ensure that's exactly what doesn't happen (e.g. claiming Willa Cather's prose was poor in My Antonia on account of the accent clearing up by the end). Beta readers have unanimously told me they can't put it down, and that they love the character consistency and depth... I'm disappointed that the nuance of the character's devolution was missed as well; I thought it was fairly obvious. The reviewer did have nice things to say about concept originality and suspense; maybe I'll just pull a couple of buzzwords from that. But I think overall that they were looking for something specific in this "Contest" that they did not exactly disclose. Is a "10" for a Self-publishing / Indie contest supposed to be on par with the best books ever written? Maybe 5.25 isn't all that bad for my first manuscript if that's the case. For now, I'm still disappointed.

nir said...

My comment was short, and while I didn't get the greatest rating, was fairly good. It had one line I might be able to use, but I think my 54 reviews on Amazon are going to do a lot more to sway a reader. It was an expensive proposition that I don't think I'll do again.

Heidi Mayo said...

They declined to review my book when I first published it and joined BookLife, and now I know why: They couldn't find anything bad to say. :-) Having won a Readers' Favorite Gold Metal, I was just about to fork over $75, and glad I found this article.
Still toying with the idea, but at this point I could flip a coin, if I had one.

Anonymous said...

I just got my review from BookLife this week and received a very complimentary few lines about my unpublished manuscript. I think there's a chance I might make it to the next round. I have no reason to believe there was anything fake about the review -- while it was short, it referenced the ending, so I believe the person read from start to finish. I felt, and still do feel, that $99 is a very fair price for a read and review of an entire book. Writer's Digest charges that much for it's self-published book competition if you send your book in time for the EARLY-BIRD rate. And you don't get a review! So they can judge after 10 pages that they don't like your book and you have nothing for that money. Kirkus charges self-/un-pubbed authors $425 for a review that is 80% summary -- that's very little useful feedback, and there's no contest element. And you can't get another review with Kirkus unless you substantially change your manuscript. In all these situations, you can't control who reads -- you do take a leap of faith that you're getting a fair reader. Even published authors with very successful books get mixed reviews. So I have to defend BookLife here. I got even more than I'd hoped for and think $99 for a review is a bargain.

Chaz said...

This has been my perception of BookLife, and to go a step further I recently paid $$ for a screenplay critique from Screenwriters.com. Two, and the second gave me a lower rating than the 1st (plus a number of off topic questions of my work) AFTER I made the adjustments recommended by the first screenplay reviewer! Asked for my money back, of course.

Chaz said...

SCREENCRAFT.ORG Not SCREENWRITERS.COM in my previous comments.

Anonymous said...

I got my feedback in a timely manner. Out of four books submitted, they liked one. For one of the others they said "it was like the author couldn't decide if she was writing a novel or a biography." Um, the book is biographical historical fiction. You would think Publisher's Weekly would know the definition of that genre. The others were TERRIBLE feedback, and as someone mentioned above, the books have won other contests, including being named book of the year.

Will not be entering this contest again, even if the book they liked wins something.

Anonymous said...

Writer beware is right. As with others who've commented, I doubt my novel was even read. I received a very brief, generic response and a 4.75 rating, which I found confusing until I searched the site to find out that it's a 10 star scale. I appreciate that they explain how to properly credit them should I choose to quote the blurb. The question is, should I use the sentence that makes my book sound boring? Or the one that makes it sound bad? They give you the option to make your critique private. I didn't bother. I believe their review reflects more poorly on them than my book.

Anne Sweazy Kulju said...

I have won numerous writing awards for my first three novels, but my entry was a just-completed manuscript that has not yet been seen by others, sans mom and one close friend.

The (raw) manuscript is the stand-alone sequel (part 2) to Grog Wars, a Literary Classics silver medal winner and a current Finalist for Chanticleer's 2016 "Dante Award--it's sequel has to be good.

I needed feedback from an unbiased source. I needed to hear the harsh stuff my friends won't tell me. I have to say, the feedback was pretty darned nice--no negative comments whatsoever. In fact, the reviewer used words like, "inspired" and "original", and gave it over 8 points on their 10 point scale. This manuscript has not seen a professional edit yet, so I am encouraged I can turn it into a ten-pointer with the right help. I am quite happy with BookLife.

*I did not pay anything for any other service, nor was this a paid review. It was merely a review that was promised to each entrant to the writing competition.

 
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