Friday, September 28, 2018

Editor Beth Wright on How She Helps Indie Authors Win Awards

A few weeks ago, a former student, memoir-writer Mary Knutson, sent me an exciting email: "I can now put 'award winner' in my bio!" 

On publication of her indie release, Mary's editor had suggested four book awards to consider and the first announced its winners August 2.  As Mary scrolled down to see who had been chosen, there was her book!  She'd entered in three categories and won a Gold Winner Award in the Inspirational Human Relations category for the 2018 Human Relations Indie Book Awards.  She also won Silver Awards in the two other categories.  "So now I have three beautiful certificates to frame," she told me.

Winning an award for your creative efforts is a goal many writers dream of but few know how to attain.  It's not rocket science, but it does take a certain persistence and know-how to find the right venues, choose the best categories, and submit your work.  

This week, I'm interviewing Beth Wright, of Wright for Writers, the Twin Cities-based editor who has helped Mary Knutson and other indie writers choose and submit to contests.  

Beth began working as a writing coach, editor, and publishing consultant after twenty years in book publishing, from small press to co-owning a book production and publishing consulting company.  She feels strongly that all serious indie authors deserve good professional services so their books compete in quality with titles coming from major traditional publishing houses.  And part of that process may be contests and awards.

I asked Beth how she helps writers find suitable contests and awards to compete for.  She says there are some key factors to consider:

  • the writer's budget:  since award contests charge fees to enter (typically $50-$100 per category) and require entrants to provide copies of the book (sometimes you can submit e-book files) a writer has to decide how much she or he is going to shell out for this
  • what level of competitiveness the writer wants to go for: some awards are very high-profile (like state or national book awards), where the chance of winning might be fairly low, although the prestige factor for winning is high; other awards have less competition and might be easier
  • the genres/subject categories within a contest:  broad categories in an award contest mean more competition; narrow categories can mean a better chance of winning (and certain specialty awards offer the best chances for particular books, such as those with LGBT content, environmental subjects, literary genres, for example)
  • the award history: it's useful to scan the lists of awards from the past few years to get a sense of the competition in terms of publishers and titles, the specific focus of the award in terms of subjects or approaches, and the best match for the author's book
Beth helps authors study all these factors first, so chances of placing or winning are higher.  

I asked about the specifics of finding awards and contests and how a writer decides what to submit and where.  

Beth says, "In addition to general online searches, some useful sources for book awards are Poets & Writers magazine, the Loft Literary Center's website, and websites and blogs for and about writers, such as this one from a book publicist,  and the Book Designer website, which focuses on self-publishing authors."
Beth feels that if the book is traditionally published, the publisher should pay the submission fees. Mostly, that's been my experience but I did find some publishers won't do this--it depends on your place on their "list" and how much they've budgeted for your book promotion.  But you can always negotiate or pay yourself.  

It's all about choosing how to weigh competitiveness and profile. An author might choose to submit their book to a very narrow category that gives them a better chance at winning in one contest and perhaps take a bigger risk as well by submitting to a high-profile competition, Beth says.
Beth advises authors to read submission guidelines carefully.  Be sure to look at the award's history (the lists of award winners from the last few years) to get a sense of how their book might fit in.  Compare to previous award winners in the categories they're considering.
Over the years, many of Beth's indie author clients have won book awards, ranging from Indie Excellence to the Midwest Book Awards.  And for those who win, Beth coaches them on how to use the award to promote the book.  "Make sure to use 'award-winning book' or 'award-winning author' in your publicity and marketing materials," she says, "to get your book more notice."  She feels it's worthwhile to get the stickers that most contests offer (sometimes for a fee) for authors to put on their book covers.  "If they're trying to get a bookstore to carry their book," Beth adds, "that little foil medallion might catch the eye of the store manager and help convince them to say yes."
But Beth believes awards are just one small piece of the marketing pie.  To give your book the best chance of sales, it's good to create a comprehensive marketing plan (with or without help) as early in the publishing process as possible and also be open to adjusting it as you go.  True for authors with either traditionally published or self-published books, and whether they have robust marketing support from a publisher or they're on their own:  "Authors should do enough market research to understand their reader demographics," Beth says, "their most likely competition, and their best channels for sales."

Her goal:  Authors able to talk and/or write about their book confidently to potential readers and any gatekeepers like bookstore staff or reviewers.  

"Authors need to have patience and stamina," she says.  "It's a long-term process to develop a profile for a book and create publicity and sales momentum. Identifying their book's strengths, their key audiences, and their own resources will help their chances of success."

For more information on Beth's services, contact her at bethwright [ at ] centurylink  [ dot ] net or visit her on linkedin. 

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