If you’re a writer at all like me, you’ve imagined at one point or another seeing your book on The New York Times bestseller list. Or short listed for an award like the Man Booker prize, Hugo, Newberry, or National Book Award prizes, or any of countless others. As I aged and spent more time writing, reading, and educating myself, I found the actually writing was the most enjoyable aspect, while the urge to achieve recognition really took a back burner.
But still, as a self-published author, there is always value in being recognized. Perhaps even more so for self-published authors, who need every bit of publicity they can get. With that in mind, I’d like to draw your attention to the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) and their Benjamin Franklin Award. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Award, and as you might expect with IBPA, the contest is open to all publishers. Unlike some of the awards you might already be familiar with, IBPA emphasizes quality without discriminating based on the publishing method.
Here’s the details of the contest:
ENTER THE 30TH ANNUAL IBPA BENJAMIN FRANKLIN AWARD™ PROGRAM
The 30th annual call for entries is now open. All books with a copyright date of 2017 are eligible. Complete eligibility details are available here; the deadlines for entry are below. We hope you’ll consider entering. You can download the entry materials here and contact firstname.lastname@example.org with questions.
FIRST CALL FOR ENTRIES: MAY 1, 2017 THRU SEPTEMBER 30, 2017
Primarily for titles published January 1 – August 31, 2017
SECOND CALL FOR ENTRIES: OCTOBER 1, 2017 THRU DECEMBER 15, 2017
Primarily for titles published September 1 – December 31, 2017
The award comes with a gold seal for the winner, and a runner up silver seal for two additional entrants in each category, for use on book covers and marketing materials, along with the trophy shown on the left for gold seal winners.
Are you thinking about entering this year? There’s time, and the IBPA is very open about what kinds of work they’ll accept, giving you the freedom to send in your self-published work. This contest is only available currently for print books, though IBPA does open submissions for periodically throughout the year, so if you’re a digital only author, stay tuned to their pages for more information about when the digital awards open up again.
Thanks to the Independent Book Publishers Association, an award like this exists to honor authors of all sorts, and to provide the recognition you deserve for your work. The stigma surrounding self-publishing is slowly fading away as more and more authors chose to be in control of their own work and take the reins with self-publishing.
But if you’re thinking of entering this years Award Program, there are a few things you should think about:
- Is your book professional quality?
- Did you copyright the book in the correct time frame?
- Is your work unique and compelling?
When you think about a high quality book, what comes to mind? The cover art? The layout? The story itself?
Quality is a tough metric to measure with accuracy, but for the purposes of entering a contest, let’s think about it as the physical design and appearance of the book. For the actual content, we can consider that under Originality below. The most important thing is that your book look professional. I know, that’s another vague term. All I can say is to go to a bookstore and look at other books in your genre. See how the covers are laid out. Look at the interior pages for chapter styling, the header and footer design, and the front matter.
Because quality is so tough to pin down in specific terms, I want to direct everyone thinking about entering to the Checklist IBPA has taken the time to create. Not only is this a required list of elements for a book entered into the Award Program, it’s just a terrific tool in general for crafting your book. Remember that quality in this context doesn’t mean that the story itself is good, but that the book is well crafted, organized to meet reader’s expectations, and free of errors.
You will definitely have to take a step back from your work when considering making the book – there is a world of difference between the manuscript and the book. While you absolutely need to have solid content, quality means more than that. A book is a holistic means of sharing your content, and as such many factors beyond just the content come into play.
This contest’s first deadline (September 30) is fast approaching. If you don’t think you’re book will be ready, don’t submit it! That may seem counter-intuitive, and I do want you to submit your book to this and as many other contests and award programs as you can, but you have be sure it is ready. Rushing your book out is never a good idea. Stick to the timeline you developed for your book in the earliest stages. Don’t let the possibility of getting the book into consideration for a contest change that.
Basically, I want to reiterate how important planning is to success. You are not crafting your book around anyone’s schedule except your own. That’s why you self-publish – so you can be in control. I fully encourage authors to get their book(s) into as many competitions as they can, but never at the expense of the book itself. Stick to that time line. Get your book done and done well. Then look at competitions and contests to submit your book to.
This isn’t advice specific to a book you’re thinking about using to enter a contest. It’s broad advice for all your books. Think about what makes it unique. How is your story or piece of non-fiction different from other stories out there?
When it comes to writing competitions, originality is that one “X” factor that can make your book stand out. A striking cover or brilliant use of language, a unique angle on the story’s telling, or even unconventional layouts can all contribute to making your book stand out. Remember, the market is flooded with books. Self-publishing has given every single would-be author a platform, and if you want to stand out, it takes more than it used to.
As many scholars will attest, the basic premise of most fictional stories hold to some pretty standard themes. Love stories, coming of age stories, quest stories; the commonalities are rampant, yet new stories take these themes and package them in unique ways with compelling characters, to capture our imaginations. This should be the goal of every author. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, but we are trying to reveal a new aspect of the wheel, or shine a new light on it.
Keep this in mind as you craft your story, and in particular for the first twenty or so pages. Competition judges won’t be able to read every manuscript they receive in their entirety, so you really have to hook them with those first pages. And the added benefit is that you get practice in craft those critical early pages – the pages that will make or break your connection to new readers as much or more than judges.
Independent Book Publishers Association has created a Checklist to use when creating your book. I cannot say enough how useful and thorough this list is for independent authors. The Checklist (available for download here) is a tool to help you make certain your book has all the expected and standard elements a professionally designed book normally includes. This includes detailed information about creating the front matter, engaging in editing on all levels, designing clean interior layouts with fonts and styles that work with your content, and for all steps there are action items to keep you progressing.
Use the checklist, hone your story, find your original angle, and dive into the publishing world with IBPA’s annual Award Program! Good luck to all those Lulu authors submitting your work!