Posts tagged: 2011 IPPY Award winner

What You Can Win by Losing: The 2012 IPPY (Independent Publisher) Awards Have Been Announced! Didn’t Win? Some Words to Cheer You Up

The Gold Medal in the IPPY Awards--So near, but so far

On May 2, 2012, awards for the last few categories of the 2012 IPPY (Independent Publisher) Awards were announced. Did your book receive an award?

Mine didn’t, either. I’ve been entering the IPPYs for years. This was the first time  I didn’t win something. Kinda shocking.

It hurts to have your masterpiece spurned, but doesn’t hurt half as much as getting a one star review. That’s like a crossbow bolt to the heart, except you don’t get to die. You get to read those words savaging your beloved baby forever, or as long as your book’s Amazon page lasts. So losing in the IPPYs isn’t that bad.

You feel better already, don’t you?

This is an article about dealing with not winning a book contest. Usually I write about how to win book contests. One of the things I say in those articles is that you can do everything I say to do to win and still lose. I just demonstrated that.

Not winning in the 2012 IPPY (Independent Press) Awards brought to mind an actual event that happened to me in the olden days, before my body started disintegrating. I used to show horses.  My family was into horses. That means: We’d blow the kids’ college tuition fund if a good show prospect came up. We were over-the-top, raving horse maniacs, like everyone else we knew. We bred, raised, trained and showed our horses, which were Peruvian Paso horses. That’s right, they originated in Peru. What follows is an uplifting to you (I hope), though extremely embarrassing to me, tale illustrating what can be learned through losing.

Hang in there: This is more of a short (or medium length) story, than a blog post. Actually, it’s a free Kindle short.

Azteca de Oro BSN & I at the Monterey show. This is NOT me riding Vistoso. I couldn't find a picture of the Big V and me. I'm riding Vistoso's full brother, Azteca, at the Monterey Fairgrounds. Close enough.

OK. I was riding one of our top horses, Vistoso, at the Mission Trails Classic Championship Peruvian Paso Horse Show in Monterey, CA.  The Monterey show was very large and prestigious. All the top ranches attended the event; winning was a real coup.

Vistoso and I were in some class, most likely Performance Geldings, since he was a performance gelding. In performance classes, the horses don’t just zoom around the arena looking beautiful. They have to do something: stop and back up, go fast, go slow, turn in circles, reverse, and serpentine through poles set so close that the animals looked like snakes with manes and tails.

Vistoso and I were having the ride of a lifetime. We were on. We were in perfect harmony: a gorgeous young horse and an aging-but-still-pretty-together woman. Vistoso was a tall, bright chestnut gelding. He was big; he was bold. He was magnificent. (Which is what Vistoso means: Beautiful, delightful, showy, spectacular. Peruvian Paso horses are required to have Spanish names, in homage to their Peruvian roots.)

We moved around the carefully groomed arena. The stadium surrounding us was filled with everyone who wasn’t riding a horse or getting ready to. Vistoso didn’t take a false step the whole class. I could hear the four-beat sound of his gait, the paso llano, a slow gait particular to his breed. We were in perfect balance, horse and rider.

Other horses were in the arena, but I knew we had it nailed. We’d win the class, go on to the championship competition, and win that. From there, Vistoso would become the new Champion of Champions.

TWIGGY & LILY at Monterey–- This is my daughter Lily riding out of the arena on Twiggy, probably the hottest horse we've ever owned. Notice how the horse seems to be compressed horizontally, smashed from front to back. That's because she wants to leave the ring. If Lily let go of the reins, that horse would launch faster than something from Vandenburg Air Force Base.

The judge pointed to a number of horses moving along the rail, including Vistoso and me, and indicated that we should move to the center of the arena, next to the flapping canvas pavilion where the ring steward and officials sat with a pile of gaudy trophies. I eyed the trophies, panting slightly. We were in “the good pile.”

The judge then motioned to the horses still moving along the rail, indicating that they should leave the arena through the newly opened gates. They were “the bad pile.”

If you’re in the good pile, you’re that much closer to winning. Except that horses do not care about winning. They are herd animals: they care about being with their their buddies, who were leaving the arena. Horses in the good pile can become very anxious at this point.

The judge sent us to the far end of the arena and the announcer began  calling out winners, working from the lowest place to the highest. A couple of honorable mentions. Fifth place. Fourth . . . When their numbers were announced, riders piloted their horses to the flapping pavilion and picked up their ribbons. They then left the arena, the horses practically bolting as they neared the open gates.

The higher your placement, the worse it gets. I was circling Vistoso at close to light speed as he became increasingly distressed watching his fellow equines escape. Finally, the Big V and I were the only horse/rider pair in the arena, except for this other woman on a little liver chestnut. (Yes, he was the color of liver.) I knew her. She was a really nice lady. Little horse. No sweat. The class was mine. I kept circling Vistoso, hoping that my triumph wouldn’t be overshadowed by him bucking me off. Then the announcer called the second place number.

It was MY number! I came in second.  That was impossible. I had won the class. No one could have had a ride as good as ours. I rode out of the arena with my lousy red ribbon. I was pissed off, and I stayed that way the rest of the day, and into the night.

Evening fell, as it inevitably does. The big dinner dance was on. The Monterey fairgrounds have a really cool party set-up. Soft lights twinkled and the band struck up. A gorgeous buffet was laid out. Champagne flowed and folks in “Western/Peruvian formal” attire chatted it up or took to the dance floor.

I made my way through the crowd, turned a corner, and ran smack into the show’s  judge. My eyes narrowed and my back went up.

The judge recognized me and put out her hand, grinning broadly. “Boy, did you ride that horse this afternoon!” Her praise was as heartfelt as any I’ve heard.

She didn’t fool me. That class was MINE. “Well, if you liked us so much, why didn’t you give us the blue ribbon?” I said. You see, I’m a liberated woman. I’ve also taken nine million assertiveness trainings. I was not about to let someone ***** me over.

The judge rocked back, and then replied without missing a beat. “Well, this is a very good show. A second prize in this show is equivalent to a championship somewhere else.”

I walked away, feeling slightly better and proud that I’d spoken up for myself. I was no wimp.

* * *

Fast forward to the end of the show season, late Fall. I’m at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center in Griffith Park, Los Angeles, CA. The National Championship Show for the Peruvian Paso breed is  in full swing. This is the big, BIG time. Griffith Park is a real equestrian center. Massive cement grandstands circle an over-sized ring, creating a bowl which is spanned by a very high and equally massive ceiling.

The Nationals are like this: All the horses you’ve seen  in the magazines are there with their famous trainers, equally famous ranch owners, and enough stable help to run a small resort. The barns where the horses are kept when not performing sport flags and banners and swags up and down the aisles. Each ranch has its signature colors. Videos advertising the ranches’ charms and horses for sale play at the end of each stall row. Multicolor ribbons flutter, too––whatever each ranch has won at the show is displayed front and center.  Believe it or not, some ranches deck out their turf with potted palms and carpeting. It’s a spectacle that looks like it came out of George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, but with more horses.

My nervous system goes into overload and then flames out with the tension of the Nationals. I’d already blown the classes I was riding in. “The bad pile” was probably above my head in that company.  I had plenty of free time, so I sat in the stands, watching the show.

I jumped out of my seat when the  woman who stole that class from me in Monterey rode through the gates. I leaned forward, teeth bared, a growl turning over in my throat. She was a petite, slender woman with rich dark hair. Her spine was erect, perfectly balanced as she sat the horse. Her stirrups were long, permitting her legs to extend downward gracefully. If you had dropped a line from the point of her knee, it would touch the tip of her toes. She held her hands low, almost touching the front of the saddle. Her equitation was plu-perfect.

Her horse, the grubby little thing I’d dismissed, wasn’t so grubby when I looked at him carefully. Liver chestnut is actually a rich medium brown, very correct and conservative. The horse was small and fine, elegant, like its rider. They were a brilliant match of type and style. Her poncho, saddle, bridle, everything, was exactly what the rule book specified. The animal moved along, relaxed, but alert, and precisely gaited.

Riding is one sport where the better you are, the less you do. You can see dressage riders in the Olympics whose horses are doing unbelievable things, but you can’t see the rider doing anything. The pair before me were like that. Exquisite. You know, there’s good riding, and then excellent riding. This was riding touched by angels.

I sat there, my mouth falling open. My hands went cold. I didn’t win that class in Monterey because I wasn’t good enough. I couldn’t see my competition because I was busy riding my own horse. Seeing her in that arena told me that she and that little gelding were world class. (In fact, they would win the National Champion of Champions Performance Gelding title later in the show.)

I had a sinking feeling when I realized what I’d done. I felt like my center of gravity was ten feet below the stadium and dropping. I remembered what I had said to that judge. My cheeks flamed. Embarrassment so powerful that you could almost see it washed over me. I had been so rude to that nice woman. I am still embarrassed about what I said, many years later.

I’ll never forget it.

* * *

So there it is: I didn’t win because I didn’t deserve to. I didn’t know I wasn’t the best because I was busy riding my own horse and couldn’t see the others.

* * *

Am I saying that your book didn’t win in the IPPYs because it wasn’t good enough? Well, . . .

Let’s take a look at that. When you enter your book in a contest, it’s like entering the arena on Vistoso that day in Monterey. You’re busy with your own entrant and can’t see the competition. You don’t know how good the other entrants’ books were. And you’ll never know. Remember me mouthing off to that judge when you feel like screaming over your placement. Don’t embarrass yourself.

Let’s look at book contests. You’ve zeroed out at the IPPYs this year. What should you do? Here are some options:

1. Walk away from it and never enter a book contest again. This is a pretty good option. Book contests are expensive. Aside from the cost of editing, proofreading, having my book designed and printed, along with the two years of my life I spent writing my book, Lady Grace, I forked out maybe $150 for the single category I entered. That includes the entry fee, postage, and materials for the press kit, which I included even though it wasn’t required. If I’d entered more categories or books, the cost would have multiplied.

Lady Grace, my 2012 entry into the book contests. Finished moments before entries close,will the Lady have what it takes?

As an indie author, do you need awards from book contests to sell your book? Let’s look at some of the most successful authors––indie or traditional––of our time. Take John Locke, the first indie published author to sell one million ebooks. John’s probably about to hit the two million mark by now. What did that get him? A lot of money and a contract with Simon & Schuster, one that he designed that meets his needs. (No yanking the indie author around.) And then we’ve got Amanda Hocking, who parlayed her young adult series into millions of book sales and dollars, and a contract with St. Martin’s Press. Darcie Chan, who published her book as an eBook after being rejected my the major publishers. She’s probably getting close to a million eBook sales by now and is a NYT Bestselling author, not to mention having a lot more loose change. What list of successful indies could leave out JA Konrath, the father of the “you can do better publishing it yourself” movement. Or M.J. Rose, probably the first author to go the self-pub route.

Did any of these people use awards from book contests for independent presses as their springboards to success? No. Did any of them enter such contests? Not that I know of.

(I don’t think they do blog tours, either.)

From these success stories, it looks like not entering book contests may increase your chances of success. Figuring out how to effectively sell your book is way to go.

2. Say you want to win prizes and enter more contests. What then? I’m like that. A compulsive competitor. I like to say, “Hi, I’m Sandy Nathan, award-winning author. I’ve won . . .” I like stickers and medals and certificates. I like to increase the number of wins I’ve got and post the new totals all over. Look at my website, for Pete’s sake. If that isn’t ever conspicuous flashing of glitz I don’t know what is.

My husband says, “Isn’t twenty-one awards enough?” I say, “No! A million wouldn’t be enough!”

You’re like me, you didn’t win the IPPYs this year, but you want to try again. Read the article below and follow it. This is my famous “What I do to win book contests” article. Do all that and enter your new book next year.

Or––take a look at your book and what you’re writing now. The IPPYs are a huge, prestigious contest, like the National Championships I described above. Are you up to that competition? If you don’t think you you can make it in the rarefied atmosphere of the IPPYs, pick a different contest. My article on how to win book contests has links to some very nice smaller contests. Maybe one is just perfect for your book.

3. If my recitation of what you actually get out of book contests sticks in your craw, pick a contest with really good prizes. Good prizes are a reason to compete even if you’re horrified by what I’ve said above.  I’m sharing a secret now. The 2012 National Indie Excellence Contest has killer prizes. Check ‘em out on their web site. They have regular winner and finalist prizes for the various categories, but the overall winners get stuff like thousands of dollars of services from top publicists. That’s worth competing for. It’s too late to enter this year, but 2013 is coming fast.

The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy

The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy––Winner of the 2011 Gold Medal for Visionary Fiction in the IPPY Awards

4. What does winning really mean? In 2011, I was thrilled and delighted when my book The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy won the Gold Medal in Visionary Fiction at the IPPYs. I’d won in previous IPPYs, but never a Gold. I feel tremendous gratitude to the people putting on the contest for acknowledging my book as they did.

The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy is Book I of Tales from Earth’s End. The series is a fantasy/sci-fi/visionary fiction tale about people pushed to the literal ends of the earth. In The Angel, nuclear holocaust looms as the characters work to mend their past “business” and figure out how to survive the destruction of the planet. The Angel is a good book. It’s an important book treating the possibility of nuclear weapons destroying our world, as well as what can come from an economic disaster which is not successfully resolved. It’s beautifully produced and has a killer cover. I like this book very much.

Lady Grace is the second book in the Tales from Earth’s End series and was my entry in the 2012 IPPY Awards. Lady Grace sets out what happens to a small group of survivors of the nuclear war as they begin to create a new world. Every book professional who has touched Lady Grace has told me that it’s not just better than The Angel, it’s way better. “Your pacing, the plotting, the characters––all are terrific. This is the best writing you’ve done.” That was my editor. Others have said the same sort of thing: I’ve hit my stride with Lady Grace. I knew it, too.

A woman in my book club who told me she’d hated everything I’ve written called me babbling in rapture after reading Lady Grace. “It’s fantastic, Sandy. It’s the best book I’ve ever read. How did you do that? Where did you come up with all that?” And more, she went on and on. I loved it.

Lady Grace, my 2012 entry into the book contests. Finished moments before entries closed, Lady Grace was left in the paddock area at the end of the race.

OK. The Angel won the Visionary Fiction category in 2011, for which I will be eternally grateful. Lady Grace didn’t win anything in 2012, but it’s a better book in every way. Except maybe its cover. The version I submitted was straight off the presses; it might have been a proof. The print copies of the book arrived so close to the contest’s deadline that we didn’t have time to make adjustments in the cover or anything else before shipping them off to the IPPYs.

The final issue I’m raising is about judging. I’m not doing the snotty thing that I did to that poor judge in Monterey. I realize that the emerging National Champion of Champions might have been entered in the Visionary Fiction category in 2012. I don’t know what the competition was, or what the competition was in 2011 when The Angel won the Gold.

It’s just really weird to me that a lesser book should win the competition and a superior one not even place. Did the judges read it? Maybe totally different judges were working in 2012, and they had different preferences. You see that showing horses all the time. Some judges hate a particular type, while others love it. Maybe the fact that the cover wasn’t totally jelled knocked it out. That’s possible. We’ve since modified the cover, cleaning up the colors and changing the tag line.

A lot of things could have happened, and some of them must have.

What does the judging mean? What do you win when you win? Are the winners really the best books? What does an award mean?

The more I think on these things, the more I tend to agree with my husband. Maybe twenty-one awards is enough. (Twenty-two now. Lady Grace was a finalist in Visionary Fiction at the 2012 Indie Excellence Awards.)

So, campers, we’ve finished our romp through Contestland. I don’t know if I made you feel any better after your non-award, but maybe I made  you more thoughtful.

I look forward to hearing from others about their contest experiences. Would you do it again? What did it do for book sales? Your career?

Let me know, folks.

Sandy Nathan, Award-winning Author

Sandy Nathan is the winner of twenty-one national awards for her writing. She’s won in categories from memoir, to visionary fiction, to children’s nonfiction. And more.

Sandy’s  books are: (Click link to the left for more information on each book. All links below go to Kindle sale pages.)
Sam & Emily: A Love Story from the Underground (paperback. Kindle coming)
Lady Grace: A Thrilling Adventure Wrapped in the Embrace of Epic Love (paperback. Kindle coming)
The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy
Numenon: A Tale of Mysticism & Money

Tecolote: The Little Horse That Could

Stepping Off the Edge: Learning & Living Spiritual Practice


Numenon: A Tale of Mysticism & Money “Bill Gates Meets Don Juan”

Numenon: A Tale of Mysticism & Money

Numenon: A Tale of Mysticism & Money came out in 2008. (Good heavens, has time passed that quickly?) It won six national awards, including the prestigious Silver Nautilus and a Silver Medal in the IPPY Awards. It’s got an almost 5 star review rating on Amazon. Numenon was the number 1 book in all the categories of Mysticism on Amazon and way up there in Kindle sales for about a year. That’s pretty cool.

I want to thank my readers and reviewers and the contest judges for honoring my book by reading and valuing it.

So what’s Numenon about, Sandy? Uh. “It’s about the richest man in the world meeting a great Native American shaman.” That was the response I gave for a long time. It’s true. That is what the book is about. It’s about much more, too. I found this press release from when Numenon was released:

What can readers expect from Numenon?

Numenon is a book that can be read on many levels. First, it’s an suspense/thriller. A reader can get caught up in the story and the interplay of characters and forces. A reader can be enthralled wondering what on earth will happen next. Reading Numenon on this level is just fine.

Numenon can be more than that. It’s a philosophical adventure, starting with its name. The famous philosopher Immanuel Kant defined the noumenon (or numenon) in the 1700s. It means “the thing-in-itself,” pure being as opposed to the world perceived through the senses.

In writing Numenon, I hoped to carry readers to that essential world, the world of absolute reality where mystics live. The glowing foundation of existence.

To get to the deepest heart, one must start where he or she is. That’s what Numenon does. Many of the characters are definite “befores”––they’re powerful, ruthless, unprincipled, and not very nice. We walk with them on a journey toward becoming the people they really are, and we do it in the company of one of the greatest shamans ever to walk the earth.

Numenon is a spiritual and psychological trip from here to there, from where we are to where want to be. To our dearest and truest selves.  The numenon.

I hope you enjoy the trip. I’ve had a blast writing it for you. Please be aware that this book has a bite. It’s not a pretty story about nice people. It’s about flawed people about to have their flaws shaken out. It’s got violence, some sexual situations, and language. I’d give it an R rating.

Is Numenon a gripping page turner, a  thriller pitting the highest levels of American capitalism against ancient shamanic power?

Or is it a philosophic investigation into the reality of the mystics, the reality beyond and beneath our everyday lives?

Will it take you to your core, the real you you’ve always wanted to be?

Read it and find out.

Sandy Nathan

PS. Numenon’s sequel, Mogollon, is written and has been written for a long time. It needs to be shortened from a 1,400 page monster into something that people can lift. That is on my schedule––as I’ve been saying for years, I know. Thank you for your patience, readers.

My rewrite project got stalled when I was bowled over by a little sci-fi/fantasy/visionary fiction series that grabbed my brain and would not let it go. The series is called Tales from Earth’s End.

The first book of the series, The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy is available now. The Angel is the story of a sixteen year old tech genius and an angelic extraterrestrial charged with saving two planets. The book has already won a Gold Medal in the 2011 IPPYs in Visionary Fiction and won the 2011 Visionary Fiction Category in the Indie Excellence Awards. It has almost 5 star reviews on Amazon and a 5 star overall rating from Red Adept Reviews. All for 99 cents as a Kindle. Such a deal. (Numenon and my other books are 99 cents as Kindles, too.)

The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy will give you something to look forward to while I prepare Numenon’s sequel. It’s everything you hoped it would be and more. What’s the more? Characters from Numenon & Mogollon appear in the second book of Tales from Earth’s End., Lady Grace! The series do not merge, but they touch! And create fireworks!

How to Win a Book Contest — Hot Tips as the Results of the 2011 Contests Are Announced

Mother’s Day, May 8th, 2011.

OK. I’m fudging a bit. I started writing this article on Mothers’ Day, 2011, but have updated it to include contest wins that were announced later in the the year. As of today, December 5th, 2011, my books have won twenty-one national book awards.  In addition to the twelve awards my first two books garnered, my two new books won nine more this year. The awards are listed way, way down at the bottom of this article and on my web site.

Why am I telling you this? Winning is thrilling, for one thing. It’s worth letting people know about. Plus, all the articles say you should write about topics that you know.

I know how to win book contests. I’m going to share my “secrets” with you here.

After you’ve read this article, you may decide you would rather do anything than try to win a book contest. I used to be a straight A student. One of the guys in my class looked at my notes and saw what I did to maintain my 4.0. “I don’t think I want to be an A student,” he said, looking slightly green.

Winning takes a lot, you’ll see. I’m going to start with two basic questions:

How do you enter a book contest?

The contests that I’m talking about are contests for independent publishers, small presses, and self published authors, though “the majors”––the big, traditional publishers ––do enter some of the competitions I’ll be talking about.

I’m not discussing the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, the Nebula or Hugo Awards, the Booker Award, or the Nobel Prize for Literature. Professional associations and literary big-wigs nominate books for these are awards; you don’t sign up for them.

I was talking about contests for indie authors and presses on an on-line forum once. Some guy posted a list of the big-big literary awards, intimating they were the only ones that mattered. If that’s how you feel, go back and get your MFA at Iowa or your PhD in literature somewhere and have at it. You might ask the universe for a brain re-do, too, giving you an English aptitude in the 99th percentile. And a stratospheric IQ.

Let’s stick to what’s doable.

To enter a book contest, pick one you want, go to its website, fill out the forms and pay your money. Send them your book and whatever else they want. Voila! You’re entered.

How much does it cost? I have paid entry fees of between $50 and close to $200 per category. So if the entry fee per category is $50, and I enter two books in two categories, I’m going to fork out a not-insubstantial $200. Plus the cost of the books they want and the cost of creating a press kit/marketing materials to go with the books.

Which category to enter? Look at your book’s BISAC category. BISAC is the Book Industry Study Group. They establish a list of official categories into which books are sorted. You selected categories when you sent your book to your printer, most likely, or when your registered your book’s ISBN with Bowker’s Books in Print or My Identifiers. You did register your ISBN, didn’t you? Or have your publisher do it? You need to do this.

Which category to enter? The obvious one is your book’s BISAC code. But some of the categories in book contests overlap the BISAC codes, and some books could be described by several categories. Some categories in book contests are going to have lots more entrants than others, too. Chick-lit, science fiction, fantasy, and mystery, for instance. Lots of books are written in those categories; winning in those groups will be harder.

What to do? My advice: Enter every category that your book fits, which may be four or five. You don’t know what the competition is going to be like in those different categories. You may hit one with only a few entrants. Or the judges of a particular category may like your book better. Hedge your bets.

To pay the entry fees, you will be spending your children’s educational funds and maybe your retirement savings, too, but this article is about how to win, not save money. (We do the same thing putting young horses in shows: Enter them in every class that seems like a possibility for a given horse. You don’t know what a horse will do at the beginning. We might have  Luxury Gelding when we thought we had a Pleasure Horse. After a few shows, we’ll have a better idea of where the horse performs best.)

Where do you find book contests? Here are a couple of web sites with lists of book contests. I have entered many of these.

SPR Self Publishing Review  This link provides a list of contests.

Publishing Basics: A Book Award Adds Value to Your Book

Reader Views: Literary Awards

The awards have specific calendars relating to the publishing year and copyright dates. Some are for the previous year’s books. Read the instructions on every contest’s page carefully and make sure you are complying with directions. For instance, the Benjamin Franklin Awards accepts books with copyrights from the previous year. So in 2011, it accepted books with 2010 copyrights.

The contests have final dates, after which you cannot submit a book. Most of them close in, maybe, February or March, others are later or earlier. Check your dates and your copyright data to make sure you comply. They often have big award ceremonies at the BEA Book Expo America, the largest book trade fair in the US. The BEA is a trip. Like a huge party for all the book glitterati. With free books! All you can carry.

Why should you enter a book contest?

Now you know how to enter a book contest. Why should you enter one? What will a book award do for you?

I’ve read promotional materials that claim that winning an award will catapult your book into the ranks of best sellers and make your name as an author.

It hasn’t worked out that way for me. I do have a friend who read my earlier article on this subject, Win Book Contests –– Make Your Book a Winner! on Your Shelf Life, this very blog. He took my advice and had his self-published book made into a hardback, entered it in a contest, and won. He was signed by a traditional publisher within weeks. Years later, he remains signed and happy and selling like crazy.

It can happen. (The other thing about my friend is that he’s a supreme marketer and his book sales were spectacular before and after the contest. Also his book is really good.)

While I don’t promise life-changing results, here are a few reasons book awards are worth pursuing.

1. An award will increase the visibility of your book. My first book came out in 2007; the second in 2009. I’ve just brought out two more books. I’ve found it much harder to make sales and keep sales momentum going now than in earlier years. I think that the difference is due to the phenomenal increase in the number of Indie books and authors and their marketing activities. Your book must stand out from and above the hordes.

An award can provide that essential difference, provided it’s part of a marketing arsenal. The unspoken truth about book awards is that you have to put your winning book, with its pretty new sticker or badge, in everyone’s face and keep it there, or nothing will happen.

2. Goodies. Some contests have really good prizes. Money, publicity campaigns. Trips to holy places: Book Expo America, for one. These are worth competing for by themselves.

3. An award can be a badge of quality and reassure your buyers. I was participating in an on-line discussion the other night when a woman EXPLODED about how sick she was of buying poorly produced self-published books. Here’s a really good, though rude and insulting, blog article with an incredibly vulgar title that talks about this problem and presents an excellent critique of self-published books. (Read the comments and links beneath the article. They’re also good.)

We in the self-publishing/independent press world need to face this problem and police ourselves. I think that book awards can do exactly that. An award-winning book should represent the highest quality available in the indie/self-published book scene.

Now that we’ve established good reasons for entering book contests, how do you win?

I’m going to give it to you straight. Winning a book contest requires a huge investment of time and a relatively large investment of money. It takes years to prepare a book good enough to win. Getting the peripherals––your web site, blog, and press packet, with everything it includes––can take more years if you do it yourself.

As an example, I started my new book, The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy, in January of 2008. I’ve worked on it full time since then, except for when I was working on my other new book, Tecolote: The Little Horse that Could. Tecolote was supposed to be a redo/upgrade of an eBook we already had that I thought would take two weeks. Hah! What a joke. I worked on Tecolote for almost a year.

I’ve been in constant communication with book designers, proofreaders, editors, graphic artists, web people and more, for three years. I’ve even been in touch with Tecolote, the horse behind the book.

When I started thinking about this article, I didn’t know how my new books will do in contests; the results weren’t in. I was very nervous. As it turned out, I’ve won nine national awards this year.

But it’s not guaranteed. Because I did well in the past doesn’t mean I will again. No guarantees in life. I’m not guaranteeing you anything in this article, either.

Now that I’ve made you really happy, let’s get into the nuts and bolts of winning.

The key is: If you win a book contest, you already know how to set up a winner. You know what excellence is and you know how to bring it forth. Getting the result is a job of work, like mucking out stalls at our ranch. Or getting straight As.

I think I’ve done well in book contests because I used to show horses and win. When you win in a horse show, it’s because you started with a winning horse, then schooled, conditioned, fed, bathed, and trained him to perfection. You know all the rules as to the type of equipment and attire you should be using, and you employ them. You know how to ride and enter the arena with all sails flying. The judge will recognize you the instant he sees you.

In a book contest, the judge faces an array of books. Your book has to leap out and SING. Also tap dance.


1. Hardbacks show up better. You’re a judge. Thirty or forty books are sitting on a table. You won’t be able to read all of them. You see a well-designed hardback with a killer cover. Your eyes and hands gravitate to it. Wow. It’s beautiful. The paper even feels classy. You put the book in the “keeper” pile. Hardbacks have more weight in competition.

Though this is changing. The hardbacks do show up better, but so much contemporary fiction is put directly into a trade paperback (and eBook) format that well-produced soft backs can also win.

(I have a bit of experience judging a book contest, which is one reason I know all this stuff. I can’t say anything about the contest except that the quality of the books was fantastic. And the winners showed up immediately.)

2. Your title and cover will make you a winner or sink you. Do you know how to judge a cover? Lewis Agrell of The Agrell Group, wrote a terrific article on what makes a winning book cover. Contact Lewis here. (He’s really good, by the way. He did the covers and interiors of The Angel & Tecolote, plus other work for me. One sheets, etc.)

For a quick tutorial on commercial design, let’s look at phone book ads. Open the yellow page ads in any phone book. Scan the page quickly. Where do your eyes land? Note the ad. Do it again on another page, and another.

In all probability, the ad that draws your attention is simple. Uncluttered. Either black, white, or mostly empty. The ads that grab your eyeballs and hold them have attained page dominance. People hire consultants to create dominant ads for them.

Now go to a bookstore sale table and look at the books. Which books grab your eyes? Which do you pick up? Buy? A book contest is like that table. Clear, bold design that dominates the competition will win.

Your cover must have an emotional hook. Think archetypes. Primal images. Something that grabs the inner psychology of your reader/judge.

To win and much more importantly, to be purchased, your book cover and spine must dominate any table and any bookshelf.

3. Your title is really, really important. Your title embodies your book’s essence. It is the first text the reader sees. It should be engaging, easy to read, evocative, and compelling––it should set the emotional tone for your book. As should the subtitle or tag line (the one line description below the title). Also, most of the big catalogs of books will list your book by its title only. It better be memorable. If your book is in a book store, in all likelihood, only the spine will be visible to the buyer. The spine must be able to hook your reader.

4. The words on your cover, flaps, and first few pages of your book, your book’s copy, should be unforgettable. These words are your prime real estate and are what will make your book succeed. The book contest judge, book store owner, and your buyer will make a decision about your book based on these words––in seconds. You want emotional hooks, ease of reading, and enchantment.

Writing copy is a skill. You can write text like an angel and not be able to pump out a winning tag line. Emmy-nominated screenwriter Laren Bright, the best copy writer I know, wrote an article about “The Most Important Writing in Your Book.” It’s copy. That’s what sells the book.

I say: Hire it done if you can possibly afford it. Copy writing is like writing good poetry. You need to be able to produce succinct messages packed with meaning and emotional associations in a tight space.

5. Book design, interior & exterior: Your book should look like Random House produced it, no less. Every page and every word should be as well designed as your cover. Go to a book store and look at bestselling books. Get a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style––a gigantic book that lays out everything about books––and make it your best friend.

A very important note: Never have your title page on the left side of the book. Do not do that. (I saw books with this flaw in the contest I worked on. This is such a bad error that if you don’t know how bad it is, you’re in big trouble.) Know the proper order of pages in a book. Know what a half title page is and where it goes. The contest judge will know about this stuff.

6. Self-publishing, small presses, template designs. Some contests are specifically for self-published books, by that I mean books put out by the big POD printers like, iuniverse, createspace, and the rest. If this is your competition, let your lulu imprint show.

If you’re in open competition, hide any evidence that you are associated with these mass printers. You don’t want their names on your book anywhere.

Some people/judges have prejudices against self-published books. There’s not as much of prejudice against author-owned small presses––after all, Benjamin Franklin had one. So did Mark Twain, DH Lawrence and tons of big literary names. If you own and operate a small press, that puts you in a different category, even if your book was printed by CreateSpace or Outskirts Press. Just make sure that nothing about the mass producers shows.

If you decide to set up your own small press, create a killer logo and press name, and have the book professionally designed and produced, you’ll be in good shape to compete.

Templates: Don’t use these. Many of the big POD publishers set up their books’ interiors using templates. Templates are standardized arrangements of a the elements of a book’s interior and/or cover design. With a template, text blocks are a certain size, font choices are limited. Books designed using templates don’t show up well in contests. The text is set too tightly, and the margins are too small. There’s not enough variety in the overall design. In contests, judges may see several books with standard interiors and the same cover photo. If your book is one of thirty in a category, or one of three hundred, it has to stand out. A template won’t do it.

7. Professional production: The book contest judge may not have time to read all of your book, but he or she will sample pages and text. Typos, lousy interior and exterior design, cheap paper, all of it pops out. Hire a content editor, copy editor and proofreader. Hire a book designer. Believe it or not, they’re not all super expensive. Look at my blog roll on Your Shelf Life. Some great professionals are listed there.

Also, you can find independent book-making professionals who are cheaper than the design and other services offered by the big POD, author services. I was poking around on one of the major sites recently. They were offering a “big sale” on their “professional editorial and design services.” The sale price was twice what I pay for my professionals and I get top quality work. I was on kindleboards the other night, and a number of old-timers advised newbies the same thing. Shop around; you can do better with your own pros.

8. Peripherals: your web site, stationery, & press kit. You did include those with your entry, didn’t you? I assure you, the winners did. The book contest judges are very likely to check your website, especially if you make it through enough of the hoops to stay in “the good pile” to the end. The “ad-ons” are breakers.

Two books might be ranked about the same, but if one author has an amazing web site and hosts a blog with a bazillion visitors a day and provides vital services to the world––who do you think will win? Ditto if an author provides copies of his book’s terrific reviews, testimonials, and advertising materials in a lovely custom folder.

I also suggest sending a press kit with your books when you send out review copies. Lots of time and trouble to do, but the reviewers love them. And the star treatment you’ve given them by providing a professional presentation.

Oh, yeah. What about the video for your book? Is that linked prominently on your site? Mentioned in your press kit?

As a reality check, the press kits for Tecolote: The Little Horse That Could & The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy took me about four months’ work, sandwiched between other book production tasks. The press kit for each book includes a one sheet (an 8.5” X 11’ glossy sheet advertising your book), custom business cards, over-sized custom postcards, and a Press Release, Author Bio, and Sample Interview specifically written for each book and designed with in Word with custom graphics. All are designed and printed professionally. These items were placed in presentation folders that matched the books’ designs.

10. The book itself, as in––what’s between the covers? In your writing group, you concentrate on literary skills and arts. Word by word, you construct and deconstruct and reconstruct your masterpiece. Ditto working with your editor. You write, rewrite, slash and burn, and make your manuscript rise again. You struggle to express exactly what you want, and worry about pacing and plot and characters.

I was in two writing groups for a total of eleven years. I’ve worked with maybe six or seven good, tough editors. Almost all of this was grueling, painful, hard work. My writing has improved. The quality of the content of your book matters, especially if you want it to sell. If you want word of mouth to propel it. If you want to read it yourself in future years and not be embarrassed.

Most likely, the contest judge or panel of judges isn’t going to read all of your book. They’ll sample it and look at different aspects of it.

Does that mean you can skip the eleven years of writing groups and all those creative writing classes? No. Whatever random page a judge’s eyes fall upon will produce an impression. All the pages have to be good, since you don’t know which ones will be read. You need to know lots. For instance, what terms relating to race, ethnicity, or sexual preference are OK to use in modern literary and cultural circles?

11. The “you’re on your own” clause. Even if you do all this, you have no guarantee of winning anything. What you toss into the arena may be great, but you don’t know what the other contestants submitted. I never feel secure that I’ll win, no matter what my book is like, no matter what I’ve done in the past.

Producing a book that wins contests is a big job requiring a commitment of time and money. It doesn’t have to be a HUGE commitment of money, but its going to cost something. Before you enter a contest, you should know what you’re up against. I’m thinking something else as well. Don’t the buyers of your book deserve a product that measures up to these standards? I have a blog article on assuring quality in self-published books right here.

[Note also that I'm posting this on Mother's Day. What kind of compulsive, obsessive whacko does that? The kind that wins book contests.]

Sandy Nathan
Vilasa Press

Numenon & The Bloodsong Series

The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy; Tales from Earth’s End

Here’s a list of the awards my new books won this year. The stuff my two older titles, Numenon and Stepping Off the Edge, won is shown on my website. Note that being a Finalist in a book contest counts as an award. Book contests are like the Academy Awards. Academy Award nominees can add “Academy Award nominee” to their names the rest of their lives. Being nominated is a mark of distinction itself.  Ditto being a book contest Finalist.

My book,Tecolote: The Little Horse That Could won the  2011 Silver Nautilus Award for Children’s Nonfiction (Grades 1-6). The Nautilus Award recognizes books that promote spiritual growth, conscious living & positive social change. I love that, because that’s what I’m trying to do with my writing.

On May 5th, my sci-fi, fantasy, visionary fiction novel, The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy, won the the 2011 IPPY (Independent Publisher) Gold Medal for Visionary Fiction. The IPPY Award contest is the oldest competition for independent presses. In 2011, 3,907 books were entered in the IPPYs.

On May 15th, the winners of the 2011 Indie Excellence Awards were announced. The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy won the Visionary Fiction category.  Tecolote: The Little Horse That Could was a finalist in two categories, Animals/Pets General and Juvenile Non-Fiction. (In book contests, being a finalist counts as an award, just as being an Academy Award nominee counts.) I have the books entered in one more contest which has not announced winners yet.

The Best Books of 2011 Awards (USA Book News) were announced in the Fall.  I won four more awards. The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy won two awards. It was a Winner in the Fiction, New Age category, and a Finalist in the Fiction: Fantasy/Sci-Fi. Tecolote: The Little Horse That Could also won two awards. It was a Winner in Children’s Nonfiction and a Finalist in Children’s Picture Book Softcover Non-fiction.  

Copyright 2011 by Sandy Nathan. All rights reserved.

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