After my first book, Opa Nobody, was published, I suddenly realized there was a thing called post-publication book awards. I was in the flurry of trying to promote the book and therefore getting used to this foreign book-promotion world. I was also working full time, and, to make things complicated, I the mom of a pre-schooler and was just about to get divorced. So I was overwhelmed and had no money. I found a few of these awards, and the fees shocked me–some run around $100 or more. I understand the reasons for those fees (sort of) but at the time, even though I was very concerned about my career, my attitude was: I’m overwhelmed, and anything that expensive has to be a scam. I also didn’t understand which awards were taken seriously and which weren’t. And what would it get you, anyway, to win those awards?
It turns out that those awards–almost no matter what they are–stay in your bio and people love them. It’s a short-hand way to attest to your perceived “quality” as a writer. By the time I realized this, I had just started to research these awards, and at that point, most of the “year after” deadlines had past. My second book came out in 2010, during a grueling period of legal crap and other stuff, and I once again was treading water and did not have the cash to plunk down for all of these. So I entered two.
Do I wish I’d entered more? Yes. I thought those were pretty good books, though I wake up sometimes in the middle of the night realizing I am having a dream about editing them. (Let it go!) And I wish they had had a chance to get that little sticker and get considered among their peers.
Do they matter, and why? If you’re on the academic job market, hiring committees with people outside your genre use them as some rough handle on whether you’re a “good writer.” Reviews are sometimes hard to parse for people not immersed in the writing world. And those awards are good for your bios and make you sound impressive. Even if the award itself is something they’ve never heard of, being selected the winner is good. But I can also see why people don’t enter them, and this is something important to know about all these awards: they are chosen not among the broad field of books published for the year but among writers who were able to buy a ticket to enter. That invisible difference means a lot.
- MIDWEST: Society of Midland Authors. Deadline Jan 7 for previous year, $10
- Foreward Indies, Jan. 18 for books published in the previous year, $99
- CONNECTICUT (award newly revived): Connecticut Book Awards: January
- Independent Publisher Book Awards, Feb. 25 for previous year’s book, $95
- Devil’s Kitchen: February for previous year’s book, $20
- Housatonic Book Awards: March 15-Jun 15 for previous two years’ books, $25
- Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards for works that contribute to understanding of racism and appreciate for cultural diversity. Deadline Dec. 31 for the current year’s books. No fee and prize is $10,000!
- Lambda Literary Awards: For books with LGBTQ themes, Deadline Dec. 31 for current year’s books.
- MIDWEST: Friends of American Writers Chicago Literature Awards: August-December : award for prior year’s books, Deadline Dec. 10
- American Book Award by Dec. for the following year’s award, no fee
- Great Lakes Colleges Association: first books only, should be nominated by the publisher. July deadline for previous two years’ books.
- Nautilus Book Awards: Awards on social justice content, Feb. 10 for previous year’s books.
- PEN: There are a ton of awards that are very important with staggered deadlines. For most of these, the publisher has to nominate, so familiarize yourself with the page and mark down the deadlines, then ask your publisher. Most come with large cash awards.
- Pulitzer: Did you know you can nominate yourself? Who knew?
- Book awards you can’t enter: National Book Critic’s Circle Award, National Book Award