July 20, 2018

The Truth about Book Awards

By Tim Bishop

Would you rather write a best-selling book or an award-winning one?

Two years ago, a business partner urged my wife, Debbie, and me to enter Wheels of Wisdom in some book contests. “If you win,” he said, “it will help your book stand out.” So, we did as he suggested.

With Wheels of Wisdom recently garnering more awards, I can no longer stay silent. Fellow authors, there’s something you need to know about book awards.

How they work

Book contests are pay-to-play marketing opportunities. On average, you can expect to pay $75 to enter your book in one genre in one competition. Programs are run either by marketing firms who are trying to make money or by non-profit literary advocates. Organizers rarely disclose the judging criteria and seldom provide feedback to entrants on their titles.

Many contests sell overpriced seals, certificates, and medals to winners. Some even offer awards ceremonies alongside industry tradeshows to provide photo opportunities. Those “perks” can add credibility to a book and help get the word out about it. But make no mistake, winners pay coming and going.

Managing expectations

Don’t get me wrong. Winning a book contest can help grab the attention of readers in your genre. The accolades feel good and attest to the quality of your work. Furthermore, a medaling book is newsworthy.

Depending on your budget, contests may be a worthwhile component of your marketing plan. Our book awards have helped land interviews, speaking engagements, media exposure, and conversations with potential buyers.

To date, however, our awards have done astonishingly little to boost lagging sales. We’ve discovered that an award-winning book is no more guaranteed to become a bestseller than a best-selling book is certain to win an award. A book award suggests the author and the publisher have done an outstanding job producing a book, but it doesn’t mean there’s an audience on standby who can’t wait to devour the content.

Despite years of history, publishing experts can only surmise that a popular figure whose name appears as author is likely to sell more books than an obscure writer. Content and quality have little bearing on that trend. Ultimately, readers buy a book because it interests them, not because it won an award. Therefore, authors should view their awards as merely one facet of their selling efforts.

Debbie and I periodically remind ourselves that sharing with excellence the hope and encouragement God has given us is what He called us to do. More book sales would also be affirming, but we realize that God can do with our content and marketing as He sees fit. Our prayer is that He touches some lives with this book regardless of how well it sells.

Would I enter these contests again? Absolutely! We are grateful for the honors and the encouragement. Next time, though, my expectations for book sales will remain guarded. There’s a big difference between an award-winning book and a bestseller.
Tim Bishop left a successful career as a corporate treasurer, married his dream girl, and embarked with her to parts unknown – on bicycles! Tim and Debbie have since coauthored four books about their midlife bicycling adventures. Wheels of Wisdom has won three first-place book awards (in Inspiration, Devotional, and Christian Nonfiction). It also earned a bronze medal for Devotional in the Illumination Awards behind books by New York Times best-selling authors Sarah Young and Christine Caine. Publishers Weekly dubbed the book “a roadmap for life.”A three-time Maine chess champion, a CPA, and a consultant for small businesses, Tim has also written a business book, Hedging Commodity Price Risk. He is still out to prove that the writing contest he won as a college freshman was not a fluke. Learn more at Social Media links:

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