Accepting the Award…

Guest post
by Shaun McLaughlin

In August, my first novel, Counter Currents, won a silver medal in a modest competition, Dan Poytner’s Global Ebook Awards. (Hold the applause, thanks.) My ephemeral joy at the news rapidly dissipated, replaced by a raging internal debate between Mr. Modesty and Squire Bravado. Can I now call myself an award-winning novelist?

Mr. Modesty sternly notes that the book took second place in a field of ten books in the subcategory of historical fiction. Further, it required a $75 entry fee. Squire Bravado says numbers don’t count—peer recognition does. Senior Bravado points out that the Pulitzer Prize for fiction requires a $50 entry fee.

Unable to resolve this philosophical enigma and sore from banging my head on my desk, I decided to interview real award-winning authors for advice. Out flew requests for a virtual interview.

Many authors just ignored my email, which Mr. Modesty was quick to point out is all the answer I really need. Squire Bravado countered that the three who did respond represented a stellar bunch with global reach. I have to agree.

Representing the United States is Indies Unlimited’s upbeat co-administrator and author Kat Brooks. From the United Kingdom, please welcome novelist and blogger Carol Wyer, an Indies Unlimited contributor. Representing the entire southern hemisphere is award-winning author and Awesome Indies administrator, Tahlia Newland from Australia.

I asked three questions.

What award(s) did you receive that convinced you to take on the label “award-winning?”

Kat:

“My awards were won a long time ago, with my first novel, Lust for Danger (2001). I got a plaque for the ‘Jada Book of the Year Award’ from 2005 (it’s quite handsome, actually). It’s an Honorable Mention, which I didn’t consider to really be a ‘win,’ but I was swiftly and severely corrected by a number of people, and my name was on the ‘Winners’ List,’ so who am I to argue.

“Not sure what year the ‘biggie’ was – 2002, I think – but I was awarded a spot in the ‘Next Big Thing’ tent at the Baltimore Book Festival.”

Carol:

“I decided to call myself ‘award-winning’ after I scooped my third award, Reader’s Views Reviewer’s Choice 2012 for humor, for my first novel, Mini Skirts and Laughter Lines. Up until then I hadn’t considered using the label even though I had awards. I was chatting to other Indies who called themselves award-winning even though they might only have a First Chapter award. It seemed silly not to alert people to the fact that the book had won awards.”

Tahlia:

For Tahlia, it was a BRAG medallion that convinced her to use the label. BRAG (Book Readers Appreciation Group) recognizes and awards quality works by self-published authors.

How big of an award do you need to legitimately call yourself award-winning?

Tahlia:

“Anything judged by professionals—not voted on by readers—that has rigorous standards applied and that you know isn’t easy to get.”

Carol:

“It’s been a bit of a learning curve and at first I believed all awards were worthwhile. With hindsight I now believe you should try to get a recognized award. This is very difficult if you are self-published; so, go for the most prestigious Indie awards. Lots of awards give stickers to their entrants and to be honest, they don’t mean a lot.”

Kat:

Speaking of her early awards, Kat wrote: “I would probably write both of those off except for the fact that the book got so much attention: two different movie contracts and contracts from two different publishers (one for the eBook and one for the print version).”

If you have to pay an entry fee for the competition, does that lessen its legitimacy?

Tahlia:

“Yes, because they’re under pressure to deliver an award even if there isn’t someone deserving of it. You’re only competing against books that can afford the fee, not a wide range, and there may be only a few entries into a category as well, in which case it’s not much of a competition. A small admin fee is okay, like $10.”

Carol:

Tough question. It’s true to say that you shouldn’t have to pay more than a token amount for an award. The best awards don’t ask for anything more than a minor administration fee and most prestigious awards don’t even demand that. I now only enter awards that require nothing more than a form filling in and copies of your book.

Kat:

“I don’t feel authors should have to pay a lot to be considered for an award. Many Indie authors are verging on being completely broke and therefore that excludes them/us from participating. If a good portion of the field is eliminated due to financial constraints, how is that fair?”

Well! What to make of all that? Professionals, not readers, did judge the book but the relatively high entry fee may have reduced competition. The award is moderate, not a “biggie” and is just in its third year.

So, to please Squire Bravado I will call the book award-winning. For Mr. Modesty, I will hold off wearing that label for now.


Shaun J. McLaughlin is a researcher, journalist and technical writer. His first novel, Counter Currents, won the 2013 silver medal for Historical Literature Fiction-Modern (set 1500-1940 AD) awarded by Dan Poynter’s Global Ebook Awards, and was awarded a place on the Awesome Indies list of quality independent fiction.Learn more about Shaun from his Amazon author page.

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25 thoughts on “Accepting the Award…”

  1. Thought-provoking look at a prickly issue. Those of us who fall into the “Mr. Modest” category are up against the braggarts and cheaters. Unless the actual award is mentioned I tend to ignore them.

  2. Since I responded to your request, Shaun, I picked up a gold medal from Reader’s Favorites. I was very excited about it until I saw how many others also won medals. Oh well, at least it will look nice on the shelf.

  3. Good post, Shaun. When I released my first novel (Quintspinner – A Pirate’s Quest”) I entered it into several book award contests after I saw an article by an agent who stated she liked to know if an author’s works had won any awards. I also needed personal validation from someone other than my best friend and Great-Aunt Alice that my writing was any good.

    I got a little crazy with the entries but after placing in the finalists for Best First Novel at the Sask. Book Awards and being invited to the Gala where Canadian politicians and well-known authors were also in attendance, I was hooked.

    All in all, it won 14 ( yes 14 – a little undiagnosed case of OCD on my part perhaps??) different awards in several different categories ( historical, YA, commercial) including the BRAG Medallion that Tahlia mentioned. BTW, I never found any contests, big or small that DIDN’T have an entry fee. I know the debate rages on as to whether placing the digital badges on a book’s cover or in the cover text helps with sales or not ( I don’t think it was a huge help in my case) but where it DID help was in convincing bloggers and promotional sites to feature my book, and I use it in my book’s Amazon description and author’s page.

    My book cover designer suggested that I put “Multiple-award winning author” on my subsequent novels’ covers and I have done so; I have had some reader feedback saying that the “Award – winning” phrase (not necessarily the specific award title mentions) caught their eye, so my vote is that if your book has won in a contest, you have indeed earned the label of ” award winner” and should use it. Every sale helps.

    Congratulations on your win!

    1. Dianne, I don’t know about in Canada, but in the US, many of the awards judged by libraries and library associations are free. Unfortunately, they’re also dominated by Big 6 publishers, who enter books directly for their authors. And, in many cases, your entry has to be sponsored by a member of the association. So, while they’re not the easiest to access, to me, it’s a lot less expensive than taking on contests which have $90 or higher entry fees. Most of the ones I come across nowadays are that expensive, which is out of my reach financially.

      Congratulations on all those awards. That is truly amazing, but expected due to your awesomeness. 🙂

      1. Thank you Kat, Melissa, and Shaun, for your kind words. I was truly a newbie back then and hadn’t found any support groups or sites like Awesome Indies and Indies unlimited to get any advice from. I am much more selective now and much better educated thanks to the advice so freely given by such sites and by other self-published authors who are such a wonderful group as a whole in helping others out.
        Still, Shaun, if one considers the second and third place medalists at, say, the Olympics, we still consider them to be winners, and so, in terms of Book Awards, so, too, should Honorable Mentions be considered winners. Cheers and congrats to all of you out there!! 😀

  4. I think if you win an award, you should mention it. Why go through the trouble of entering the contest (and paying a fee, if you had to) if you plan to keep it a secret?

    Should it be the first thing out of your mouth at dinner parties? (“You can call me the Best book of 2013 award winner,” you say as you smile big.) Of course not.

    But, if you put in for the award and then you win it, you should tell people about it. At the very least, mention it on your website bio, and maybe even your author bio at the back of the book.

    While I understand the bent toward modesty (I married a Quaker, for Pete’s sake), I don’t understand why anyone would enter a competition if they didn’t plan to tell anyone they won. I guess, for reader’s choice awards (which a person didn’t necessarily have to enter, as it was the reader’s choice), maybe you give in to your inclination toward modesty.

  5. Congratulations on your award, Shaun! I have a couple of “finalist” things and I mention them on the bio and website, but I don’t wear it on a T-shirt or anything. Not yet, anyway! 😀

  6. I wrestled with this as well, since my first awards were runners-up or honorable mentions. I finally decided that I wasn’t misrepresenting myself; I had won awards, so that was that. I just made sure the details of the awards were available for anyone who wanted to look into them further. Very thoughtful post; thanks for sharing your own Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

  7. It’s unfortunate that there is a proliferation of awards and stamps on indie books that don’t mean a lot. The Awesome Indies (a site that has very high standards for inclusion, as Shaun knows) didn’t have a book badge for a long time because of the fear that should there be a large number of them appearing on book covers, then they cease to have meaning. But as the numbers of such badges grew, we realised that to be fair to our authors in such a market, their books needed some visible sign of their acceptance into our list, so now we have one, and AIA Awesome Indies Approved Badge that indicates that the book is of the same standard as those published by the mainstream.

    We also have a gold version of the stamp for books that have won our award, the gold Awesome Indies Approved AIA Seal of Excellence. These books aren’t evaluated against each other, but against general standards of excellence, like the BRAG awards. I think that this kind of award is much more valuable than any evaluated only against who else is in the competition.
    Being listed on the Awesome Indies is no mean feat, especially since we have tightened our criteria and removed any books that we can’t be sure of, but if readers don’t know that, then our Badge is pretty much irrelevant. We hope that the word will get around. I think that those with out Seal of Excellence deserve to call themselves award winners but not those whose books just make it onto the list. They have a badge, but it’s not an award, it’s an indication of a level of quality.

    1. In the bio at the end of my article above, it mentions my novel was added to the Awesome Indies list of book. Six weeks later, AI delisted the book. AI changed its rules and applied them retroactively. That is what Tahlia refers to in her parenthetical remark above, I believe.

  8. I have to add another comment on this. As an Awesome Indies reviewer I recently reviewed a book that had won an award but the book wasn’t good enough for our list. Clearly the vote was on what the judges liked not on the craftsmanship of the book. The book was 600 pages long and had it been edited back to 300 would probably have been a good book, and yet, it won and award. How much meaning does that have?

  9. Great post, Shaun. One of my books was a finalist for a Global Ebook Awards last year, and I too wrestled with whether to call myself an award-winning author or an also-ran. I’ve settled for mentioning the honor in the book blurb on Amazon and elsewhere, but not making a big deal out of it otherwise. But maybe that’s my own Ms. Modesty talking. 😉

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