Thursday, September 8, 2016

KEEPING YOUR EYE ON THE PRIZE: Book Awards by Andrea Downing

When I decided to put my multi-award winning novella, Dearest Darling, on sale, it struck me that one way to garner interest is to mention the awards it has won.  Ah, but would it?  This opened a whole can of worms in my mind:  what, exactly, are the benefits of  book awards?  There are few authors around who don’t bother to go after at least one, yet the actual value of saying ‘Award-winning Author’ in—not a sea -- a veritable tidal wave of award-winning authors is questionable.
In the August RWR, Neal Thompson, director of Author and Publishing Relations at Amazon is quoted in an article titled ‘Making Amazon Work for You’ as saying, “The number one thing authors should concentrate on is writing the best book possible.”  Nowhere in this article does he even mention awards.  Now, you may say that having an award  says  you’ve written the best book possible, but that’s not why authors go after awards.  One author wrote to me, “I worked with a marketing company for a time, buying their services at a Brenda Novak auction.  They told me a vital step was to submit my books to places where I could ‘win’ awards…and to highlight those awards in my publicity.” Another  author with whom I spoke said she went after awards because of  prestige of contest, opportunities offered, and/or contacts or for personal reasons.”  Yet another author told me, “As a reader, I notice awards books have won…..I'll take a second look at a book from an unknown author that's won awards because I feel someone must have found merit in the book…it depends on who sponsored the contest.” A fourth said,  As an unknown getting an award seemed to be one way I could possibly garner some attention for my work.” And that seemed to be the prevalent view:  if you are unknown, saying your book won an award is one way of drawing attention to it.
While most authors feel it validates their writing, the possibility that awards actually help sales seems to be a very grey area.  The authors I contacted didn’t feel it was a huge boost.  One wrote, “I have my doubts if (awards) help sales. However, it does seem to help you get on paid promotion places. LOL”  Another person told me, “…people are more likely to take a chance on an ‘award-winning’ author.” But does “more likely” increase sales?  Yet another said she wasn’t sure, while others agreed with Thompson that it was writing the best book possible that eventually gained sales. 
So what does generate sales, assuming you have written that ‘best book.’? “THE NUMBER OF REVIEWS I HAVE!”  “…Contest wins do NOT, IMHO, help as much as a bunch of good reviews….word of mouth.”  Marketing, promotion, repetition of book title and/or author name. And writing quality stories that a majority of readers like and recommend to others. There is nothing like word of mouth kudos to move books.”  That seemed to be the consensus of opinion—it all came down to writing the best possible book and getting reviews or word of mouth.  Is there a feel-good factor to winning an award?  Yes, of course; it validates what the author has just spent several months doing. But do you sleep better at night having won?  No, not really. And if it came down to winning an award or being on a best-seller list, what do you think the answer was?
So, here I am with my multi-award winning book, Dearest Darling, on sale through Sept. 9 for 99c.  It has won a lovely marble plaque for Best Novella from The Golden Quill, a handsome token from the Maple Leaf Awards for Favorite Hero, along with Honorable Mention as Favorite Heroine, Favorite Short Story and Favorite Novel; and  placed Third in Historical Short at the International Digital Awards. It was also a 5* Reader’s Choice.  But did I write the best book possible?
You tell me.
Coffee Time Romance is currently featuring a contest with 3 winners in which Dearest Darling is part of 2 of the prizes.  head to  http://www.coffeetimeromance.com/ContestPage.html#.V8hEgCMrKRs  to take part.

The story:  Stuck in a life of servitude to her penny-pinching brother, Emily Darling longs for a more exciting existence. When a packet with travel tickets, meant for one Ethel Darton, accidentally lands on her doormat, Emily sees a chance for escape. Having turned down the dreary suitors that have come her way, is it possible a new existence also offers a different kind of man?

Daniel Saunders has carved out a life for himself in Wyoming—a life missing one thing: a wife. Having scrimped and saved to bring his mail-order bride from New York, he is outraged to find in her stead a runaway fraud. Even worse, the impostor is the sister of his old enemy.
But people are not always as they seem, and sometimes the heart knows more than the head.
And an excerpt: 
Emily liked the sound of his voice, low but not husky, a slight twang he had cultivated, but not pretentiously so. When he spoke, she envisaged melting caramel, something delicious, the way it could be so appealing as she stirred, with a shine and slow drip from the spoon, before it gradually solidified. Soothing. A liquid velvet.
But he hadn’t spoken today. Not since first thing when he’d told her to get ready. Not through breakfast, or as he helped clear dishes, or gave her a hand up into the wagon.
“You haven’t seen her. You didn’t see her picture, did you?” The questions came sudden, yet without malice.
Emily straightened, alert. “No. No, I didn’t.” Would I understand better? Is that what he meant?
“I keep it with me.” Daniel began to fish in his pocket. “Would you like to see it?”
“No. No, you keep it, please. It won’t change anything.” Emily panicked. She would be beautiful, the other, that would be the answer. So stunningly beautiful that just her photograph had enthralled him, mesmerized him into loving her. Emily couldn’t bear to look, didn’t want to know the answer. Didn’t wish to torture herself further. “And I’m sorry. I’m sorry for reading the letters.” A rush of words, they flowed out of her. “I should never have done that. It’s not like me. But you...well, you understand it seems—”
“You’re probably wondering what I see in her. Or what she sees in me. As for that, what she sees in me, I have no idea. Maybe, like you, she wishes to get away.”
Emily studied his profile, the planes and contours of his face, the eyes set straight ahead, the slouch hat low on his brow. He gave nothing away, was a man in control of his emotions, thinking, maybe still wondering how he had won that woman. Or maybe set on keeping the answer to himself.
Overhead, clouds scudded, scoured the sky, leached the blue, threatened.
“Did you ever ask her? Why you?”
“I did. She never answered. I’m thinking what she sees in me is husband material. I guess. She tells me about her day, the people she knows, what she does. As you read.”
“She just seems so...so outgoing, so...so very social to ever want this life. I found it difficult to believe.” She jutted her chin out, then turned to him, waiting.
He gave the reins a sharp shake. “I don’t know. I never asked if she knew what she was getting into. I described it. I assumed if she wanted to stop the correspondence there, she would have. I was pretty damn amazed and happy she’d wanted to come, written back even though I described the cabin to her, the isolation.” His gaze slid toward her.
“And you think she’ll make you a perfect wife, do you? Be happy living here? Cook your meals, mend your clothes, keep your cabin, have your babies?” Exasperated, she tried to make him think, think of what he was letting himself in for, how long a marriage like that could go on, how it could end up being even lonelier than he was now. Emily would seem to him to be trying to win him over rather than making him see the truth, but push him she must, save him, stop him. She knew those sorts of women, the debutantes, the socialites. Not a one would last out here, not for a single day.
His head snapped around to stare at her. “She’s been writing. She hasn’t stopped.”

Ibooks:  https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/andrea-downing/id547850055?mt=11





25 comments:

Liz Flaherty said...

I enjoyed this post and found it thought-provoking, too. I haven't entered contests for published novels--other than the Rita a few times--so I don't know if I could have won anything, but I will admit to being curious about if I could win or if it would help if I did. I'd love to be able to garner huge numbers of reviews, but I haven't figured that out, either.

Leah St. James said...

Great question, Andi! I've entered contests for the reasons you mentioned--mostly credibility--but I've never really thought about it as a sales tool. As a reader, I do think I'm more likely to try a book by an unknown author if the book has won awards, and I guess the more the better. (Congrats, by the way, on your multiple awards for Dearest Darling!) Let us know how the sale goes!

Jannine Gallant said...

I've never entered a contest. They cost money. I don't make enough on sales to spend it to get a pat on the back. I also have my doubts about the effectiveness of awards in garnering sales. Award-winning doesn't mean a whole lot since there are a gazillion contests. Now RITA award winning would make a bigger impact in the industry, but do most readers even know what that means? It's kind of like saying "best selling" author. We had this discussion on a different loop. Am I a best selling author because I made it into the top 100 on Amazon during a BookBub promotion for like an hour? Other authors claim to be best selling when they make it into the top 100 of a sub-sub category. I don't feel like a best selling author since I've seen my royalty checks, and they aren't impressive. My point (and yours) is these titles "Award Winning" and "Best Selling" lose their impressiveness when everyone uses them. Then there are the people who cheat the system by paying people to buy a bunch of their books so they can hit the USA Today Best Seller list. Ugh. I'm in the "write your best book and keep at it" camp. Great post, Andi! I'll get off my soapbox now...

Andrea Downing said...

Liz, I think the review question is certainly one increasingly in author's minds. People who say they're 'reviewers' are so inundated it's difficult to get one from those sites. Promotion tools have become a minefield!
Leah, I think the 'credibility' aspect goes out the window with so many 'award winning authors.' Not sure what Jane Doe Reader makes of it all!
Jannine, the 'best selling' question is equally full of loop holes, as you point out. I, too, have heard of people getting friends to buy their books so they hit the lists---amazing, really, isn't it?

Diane Burton said...

I just started entering contests for published works. I want that "award winning author" tag. As you say, it sets the author apart. But what prevents anyone from using that tag? Who's going to ask you what you won? I still hope my work stands on its own. That people who read my books will leave positive reviews.

Keta Diablo said...

Hi Andi, as always, your post is thoughtful. I think I'm the author who said I'd take a second look at an unknown who won an award. I see merit in some contests, but don't see value in the ones that are popularity contests, i.e., 'vote for my book' when the people voting haven't even read it. Congrats on Dearest Darlin'. I've read it and it's a delightful read!

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on contests, ~Keta~

Andrea Downing said...

Diane, I'm not sure it does 'set the author apart' when so many authors use that tag, but it may make you feel more like one of the elite (?) to be able to use it. To me, there are so many authors calling themselves 'award winning' it's become meaningless.
Thanks again for your input, Keta, and your kind words on Dearest Darling.

Ashantay said...

I agree that the award winning tag is over-used. As a judge for multiple contests, I've rated published books and given them top scores only to see them not even final, and another less-liked novel that I also judged went on to win. Books by NYT authors often win due to authorship, even when an Indy or small-print author has written a better book. For those reasons, I believe contests are crap shoots, and most readers aren't familiar enough with the industry to know when a contest win is prestigious. And yes, I'm moving to judging unpublished entries. Those contests do make a difference to authors.

Alison Henderson said...

This is a very timely post for me, Andi. I haven't entered any contests as a published author, although I won several before I was published. I'd been thinking maybe I should enter my upcoming release in a few but had the same concerns you mentioned. What real good would it do, besides confirm that some people like my writing? My reviews already tell me that.

Andrea Downing said...

Wow, Ashantay, that's really something--I never even dreamt there'd be 'favoritism' in the judging like that--thanks for that input.
Alison, it does seem reviews are the important factor but, then again, as we all well know, those can be pretty hit or miss as well, i.e. getting 1 star because she was unable to download the book properly or the one I heard somewhere, getting 2 * because the reader didn't like the description of a coffee table...

Alicia Dean said...

Excellent post, with some great points. As you confirmed, all authors have different reasons for entering contests. I don't enter many, but I have a few, and my reason would probably be partly to reach some new readers (judges are readers, after all), and also for the prestige, and if there is a cool prize, that's always icing. :) As coordinator for the IDA, I'm so pleased you did well. I would enter it if I wasn't coordinator, because it's a fantastic contest and we do have great prizes. We try to really get the word out about our finalists, too. As a reader, I might give a second look at something if an author is award-winning, but as mentioned, anyone could claim that. Ultimately, the blurb and excerpt will make or break a book for me. I also don't see the merit in the popularity contest ones, except for example, In'D tale, I won some ad space for winning. So...I guess it's just a matter of what you're after. Thanks for a great post!

Tena Stetler said...

A very thought provoking post. I have wondered the same things in recent weeks. I still remember the email received indicating A Demon's Witch was a best seller. I was so excited, I could add that to banners, but... did the title sell more books. I hope so. But as a relatively unknown autho, it sure can't hurt.
Thanks for sharing. Promotions are still a dark and scary thing, especially when you enter contests and hear nothing. Then try to decide which contests are worth your advertising dollar. Still living the dream is worth it. Don't you think?

Andrea Downing said...

Alicia, my book, Loveland, won the very first InD'Tale cover contest with the free advertising and, yes, that was worth it although it gets so embarrassing to keep nudging people for votes. I think when those sort of awards first started the idea was that readers would catch on and vote for their favorites but now it's just become this scene of begging people. At the same time, book awards have become so popular there are people/firms who just set one up, ask for some hefty entrance fee, and voila, a book award! Like you, I'm a 'blurb' reader first and foremost when buying.
Tena, I'm not sure I am living the dream in this case--sometimes it feels more like a nightmare where almighty promotion has taken over the joy of writing. But don't let me 'bring you down'--well done with being a 'best seller.'

Margo Hoornstra said...

Guess you could say 'to each his or her own.' Though I'd personally love to see 'NY Times' or 'USA Today' bestselling author attached to my name, cheating to get there just doesn't seem right. It seems to write the best book and keep t it is what really works best in the long run to bring in sales. Nice excerpt, BTW.

Andrea Downing said...

Margo, thanks for your kind words about the excerpt. As for the best-seller lists, I don't get the satisfaction if the author him/herself knows she's cheated to get there! Like you, I don't think it seems right.

AMITY GRAYS said...

Great post. For whatever the reason, "Award Winning" draws my attention even though I know it may not hold much value. "New York Times and USA Today" does indeed grab it even more, but that's probably because I work in this field and get the value. I have won some RWA Chapter awards on books I have published, but never put them on the books because I wasn't sure that qualified. By these posts, I'm assuming it did. Lesson learned.

Andrea Downing said...

Amity, the RWA Chapter awards do hold value since they're backed by a genuine authors group with the blessing of RWA. But my point is there are SO many authors who just sling on the words 'award winning author' It's a bit of a minefield, really.

Author Jeannie Hall said...

Loved the conversation and different points of view, Andi. Great post!

Andrea Downing said...

Thanks Jeannie, and thanks for stopping by.

Rolynn Anderson said...

Good discussion you've started, Andi. I read a series of arguments regarding 'when' one can call herself award-winning. The consensus...you have to be a first place winner to take the credit as award-winning. I had to laugh. Who are these award police? But I have to say, getting a testimonial about one of my books from NYT bestseller is something I've found highly prized. Now if only I could get to that 'high place.'

Loved Dearest Darling...thanks for the great read, Andi!

Andrea Downing said...

thanks Rolynn, and continue to prize that testimonial. I figure soon those will be questionable, I guess.

Casi McLean said...

Andi, your article brought up some interesting points and evoked a great conversation. I agree that the market is flooded with award winning, best selling, 5-star authors, all competing for enough readers to validate our work as worthy to be read. But despite the intense competition, embarrassing royalty checks, and the need to become a techno genius and marketing specialist, we persevere. A Writer's passion, our need to write, is a part of us. It's who we are, not just what we do. We keep climbing that mountain hoping we'll reach the peak no matter what obstacles or challenges we encounter. Reviews are probably the best gage... but they can also be a challenge depending on the reviewer. It's a tough industry.

Andrea Downing said...

Casi, you're telling me! Great note from you to end on.

Tanya Hanson said...

Great stuff here. I had this discussion on other loops and we concluded that RITA is Harlequin-centric overall and that the average reader doesn't know or care much about contests anyway. That winning or placing can be a way to catch an editor's eye early on...I don't have any answers or strong feeling either way but I have heard many chapter contests are just a way to make money for the chapter. I kinda feel bad for authors who won contests eight or nine years ago and still put the award in their email signature. There's a glut of good/great books out there and it's a challenge to be noticed for that reason, yet publishers seem eager for new submissions, and it's easy to self-pub now. But it's hard to stop. Writing is just what we do.

Andrea Downing said...

Well, if the book is 8/9 years old and it's still selling, the author will probably still be showing her award if there is one. But then I question the value of the award--is the book still selling because it was excellent (most likely) or because of the award? We could go on and on I guess with that thought...