There was a debate raging on LinkedIn recently, when someone asked the question, "What value do you put on authors when they describe themselves as 'Award Winners?'"
Responses ranged from vitriolic to meh to upbeat--the last provided by award-winning authors, for the most part.
I don't describe myself anywhere as "an award-winning author." I do say, "Author of the two-time award-winning book, Moral Infidelity." My input on that LinkedIn thread was that I thought I wrote a good book, I wanted validation, and so I entered two contests--and I won in both. And yes, there was a fee for entry to both The Great Southeast Book Festival Book (GSBF) Award Contest ($50), and the Readers' Favorite (RF) Book Reviews and Award Contest ($89.) This *fee* sparked a lot of, "If you have to pay for it, it has no value" comments.
Not so, I exclaim! Paying a modest fee to enter a competitive, professionally-judged contest is by no definition “pay for play.” Sure, there are vanity presses out there that will publish you or promote you strictly based on what you pay—that is totally different. When I learned from the President of Readers' Favorites, James Ventrillo, at the awards ceremony in Miami on November 21, 2015, that there were over 600 entries in my category of Fiction: Thriller General, I felt there was indeed value in that award. I had won a bronze medal--third place--in a category that was highly competitive. In fact, there were two silver and two bronze awards in that category; and as Mr. Ventrillo explained, there are five judges awarding points to each book. In my category, there were actual ties for the silver and bronze awards. So, technically, I was in the top five of that category. Still, I feel my book has been, well, validated.
In addition, I received a glowing 5-star review from one of the Readers' Favorite reviewers, and I was able to use it on my Amazon book page under "Editorial Reviews." I also peppered my social media pages with a high-resolution bronze digital medal that looked pretty spiffy alongside my Great Southeast Book Festival Honorable Mention gold digital badge. I don't know how many entries there were in the Great Southeast Book Festival, but I do know there was one winner, one runner-up, and ten honorable mentions--of which Moral Infidelity was one. I photo-shopped both onto my book cover, which I feel adds interest.
Now, I admit that when I won the GSBF award in January, 2015, I myself pooh-poohed it. It didn't get media coverage, and sales of my book did not budge. I had to pay for the gold stickers to use on the book ($25) but didn't find that exorbitant. When I received notification on September 1, 2015 that Moral Infidelity had won the bronze in the Readers' Favorite contest, I walked into my husband's study and laconically informed him. Of course, I had no idea of the level of competition at that time, so I couldn't assign a lot of value or enthusiasm to the award. But I decided we would attend the awards ceremony in Miami (any excuse to go to Miami, where I had lived for 30 years), so I went to the Readers' Favorite winners' page, made reservations, and ordered the complimentary bronze stickers.
After winning that second award, my proud husband contacted a friend who had been a book reviewer for three different national newspapers, asking him if he knew of anyone with a major periodical who could review my book and get it more exposure. He mentioned both awards, and surprisingly, the reviewer replied, "If she's won the Great Southeast Book Festival award, she's already accomplished something. There's buzz about that award in the industry." Who knew? There was an awards ceremony for GSBF winners being held in California, but I didn't even consider going. Learning that there was some measure of prestige attached to that award, I now wish I had.
Readers' Favorite posted the information about the winning books on numerous social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter. They put on a heck of a fine awards banquet, and delivered some high-quality photos that can be used for marketing and promotion. So do I feel I got $89 worth of value from Readers' Favorite? You bet I do! Best of all, sales ticked up that awards weekend when I ran a promotion, and Moral Infidelity entered the top 5,000 on Amazon for the first time. Do I feel I got my value out of the $50 Great Southeast Book Festival Award (plus the $25 for stickers?) Hard to say, but I know that I am now almost as proud of the GSBF award as I am of the RF award.
For those who think any paid entry for a contest makes it bogus, I would like to point out that someone has to read and review the entries, and someone has to read and judge those entries. I can't imagine any organization that is altruistic enough to pay those persons on authors' behalf. I can't imagine any reviewers who would read dozens of books and review them as a favor. Somehow, the costs for the banquet venue and food, the medals, and the photographer, had to be paid. That booth at the Miami Book Fair International, where the award-winning books were displayed, was not free. When you consider all that Readers' Favorite delivered, I think $89 is a bargain.
So yes, I feel I got my money's worth...Validation, promotion, and a fun time in Miami, where I met so many interesting authors. Book promoters and marketing specialists were there to offer advice, along with their services. Of course, the promoters and marketers have other (paid) services to offer, and for those who wish to take it further, they at least have a place to start.
I'm now working on my fourth book, and though at this point I have no idea if it will be good enough to win another award, I might just pony up the money and go for what I originally intended to get out of the entire awards process--validation. Where's the flaw in that?