Are Book Awards Important?

Rachel Kent

Blogger: Rachel Kent

Springtime is book awards time. Finalists are being named; winners are being announced. Does winning a contest or an award make a difference in a writer’s career?

My basic answer is: Yes, it does make a difference because being a finalist or winning any award sets your book one notch higher than those books that didn’t win. Certain awards hold more pull than others, but all awards can make a difference.

Winning the Genesis contest might help you to find an agent. Winning the Christy Award might help you to get another contract with your publisher. Winning a RITA might increase your book sales. Winning a writers’ conference contest might land you an agency contract or publishing contract if one of the judges (an agent or an editor) loves your submission. It’s hard to predict what could happen, but there’s definitely some advantage to winning.

How do publishing houses weigh the merit of an award?

Publishers know how to weigh the various awards and which carry the greatest weight. Winning certain awards gives an author credibility as a writer.  The awards that hold the most value to publishers, retailers and book buyers are often displayed on the copies of the book with a sticker or an award logo printed on the cover. I bet all of you have seen these before. Many times the books with award stickers are displayed face out at the bookstore, which increases the chances they will be purchased.

 As a customer which awards do you value?

When you go to the store, are you more likely to purchase an award-winning book?

Has winning an award made a tangible difference in your publishing journey?

Congratulations to all of the Genesis semi-finalists and Christy Award finalists whose names were announced these past couple of weeks!

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43 Comments

  • I definitely think that I am more drawn to a book or author who has won an award like the Christy. However, I mostly choose my books based on friends’ recommendations and authors that I know. There can be so much subjectivity with awards, too. Sometimes I read an award-winning book and say, “I just don’t see it.” But overall, I can definitely see how winning an award is to an author’s advantage. Thanks for this post!

  • Wendy Heuvel says:

    Thanks for another great post Rachel! You never fail to make me think.

    Do I buy books based on awards? Like Lindsay, I’m more likely to read a book on a recommendation from a friend. However, from a screenwriting perspective, I do tend to choose movies that have won certain Christian awards I favor.

    I have been a finalist in a couple of different writing contests and I definitely found that it helped me. Not only did it increase my credibility, but it also encouraged me to keep going, keep learning and to keep going with my writing. I found that to be equally beneficial!

    • Rachel Kent Rachel Kent says:

      Encouragement to keep going. Thanks for pointing that out. So true! I find that in my own life that when I’m ready to give up on something God will give me that little bread crumb of encouragement to show me that I’m on the right path and that I need to keep going.

  • Tiana Smith says:

    As a reader, I’ve never even looked twice at the awards, though I can see how it might be more important once you’re actually “in” the industry and dealing with agents and publishers.

  • Kate says:

    Rachele,

    I’ve never purchased a book based on an award. I rely on my mother, my daughter and a few friends for recommendations…and of course, when I can read the first few pages I usually know if I want to buy the book.

    So, I, of course, assumed awards are nice, but not important. Uh oh. After reading your perspective as an agent, and now understanding a publishers view, I guess I need to rethink my POV.

    Thanks for opening my eyes…happy Wednesday!

    • Rachel Kent Rachel Kent says:

      From the comments here it looks like friend recommendations are much stronger than award recommendations, but I do think that awards are important. :)

  • I always love your helpful posts, Rachel!

    The only books I buy based on awards would be children’s books. Like Newberry or Caldecott award winners. Usually I can be fairly sure they’ll be worth reading (though not always!). I want to make sure my kids read as many classic books as possible. I think of Island of the Blue Dolphins…not sure what award that got but it was WORTH it!

    I was wondering about Genesis vs Christy awards–is Genesis for unpubbed books and Christy for published stuff? And what’s the Rita? Would love some info (though I could google it too!).

    • Rachel Kent Rachel Kent says:

      You are right about the Genesis and Christy awards. They are both Christian, CBA based awards.

      The RITA is a Romance Writers of America award and is ABA based. They have an inspirational fiction award each year for CBA books.

    • Elissa says:

      Heather, you must have read my mind. Newberry and Caldecott are the only awards to which I have ever paid any attention.

      I tend to pick a book off the shelf because of its cover art. If the cover copy sounds interesting, I’ll buy it. I don’t even read the blurbs or notice if it won an award.

  • Jill Kemerer says:

    I haven’t read a book based on if it won an award, but I really love to see my friends up for awards! I’m always rooting for friends in the Golden Heart and Genesis contests, but the Rita’s? Usually 2 or 3 of my fave authors are up for the same award. How can I choose?? It’s too hard!

  • Heather says:

    Awards definitely catch my attention and may lead me to put a book on my “to read” list.

  • Jeanne says:

    Rachel, you make some good points about awards. As a reader, I usually read books friends recommend or by authors I enjoy. I’ve never really considered awards as an incentive for buying a book.

    As a writer, your observations make a lot of sense to me. Awards get writers noticed. :) Thanks for sharing your thoughts today.

  • Quite a few writer friends have asked me to vote online for their books to get awards. The people who win those are just the ones with the most friends and the awards mean nothing about the quality of the books so I ignore them. But I am influenced by the Newbery and Christy awards.

  • The question I have always had about awards is how meaningful is winning an award when I am only being measured against the other writers who were willing to pay to enter the contest? I’m NOT dissing awards. I understand that publishers love being able to say “award-winning” on publicity, and of course anything that sets a writer apart in a good way can be of value as a marketing tool. But I still have the original question.

    • Rachel Kent Rachel Kent says:

      Stephanie, maybe the best writer in the world is some closet writer who’s works will never be published. There’s no way to judge all of the writers in the world against each other to find the best one. To have a fair contest the same three judges would have to read all of the books, too, because opinions vary so much. That’s why God gave us many writers so that the wide variety of readers would have books to read.

      It’s all about publicity these days and paying to be part of a contest can get your name out there. Awards don’t always require the writer to pay either.

      I do understand your point though!

  • Awards have affected my book choices. If I hear that a paticular title (or author) received a Christy or a Carol, the names will stick in my mind and I’m more likely to pick it up in a bookstore or library.

    I still remember being a kid and seeing the shiny gold medallion on Newberry & Caldecott books. That made a big impression on me, I guess.

  • Awards definitely sway my buying. I read mostly children’s books and I not only pay attention to the Newbery and Caldecott awards, but also to the regional library awards. A book that can win a regional award may not be one I read if it’s not a genre that interests me, but if I choice between two books in a genre I love and one has won an award and the book bloggers are talking it up (and the two go hand-in-hand) I will buy the award-winning book over the other. The other may be a great book, but I don’t want to take a chance with my money.

    Winning awards has made a difference in my publishing journey, too. I’m not published, but winning awards had opened doors to me.

  • I think from an agent’s perspective, or an occasional reader’s perspective, I understand why contests mean a lot. When faced with thousands of choices, you need something to help screen through the muck. However, as an avid reader, I no longer use contests to judge what I read, especially now that I know how they work. Too often, I’ve read books that began very strong, only to peter out in the end. They would have won many contests since that is what is read. But from a reader’s perspective, it only got my hopes up to be disappointed. I would have rather the story build to a satisfying conclusion. So, though as a writer, I still enter the contests, and have received valuable input from them, I no longer use them to assess what I will read. Mostly now, I download samples on my e-reader, to get a sense of whether or not the writing, characters and voice will appeal to me. If it does, I’ll take the plunge and try the whole story. If the whole is good, I’ll buy more from that author. I know, I am still assessing by the first few pages, as does a contest judge, but at least it’s by MY taste and not someone else’s. A better clue.

  • Matt says:

    I had the honor of being an ACFW Genesis winner last year, and while publication hasn’t found me just yet, the win opened doors for contacts that I simply wouldn’t have had without the exposure. So, while our own value as writers doesn’t and shouldn’t hinge on awards, I offer a hearty agreement to a writing award being important.

  • I’ve honestly never bought an adult book because it won an award, but I do trust the Newbury Award winners for children’s literature.

  • Stephanie M. says:

    I try to read every Booker Prize winner since that’s usually a pretty good indicator of excellence (although women seem to be quite under-represented).

  • Peter DeHaan says:

    Does winning an Amy Award carry much weight? Those who have won them sure like to point that out!

  • Thank you so much for this post, Rachel! I’ve actually never noticed any award logo stickers on books. I’m def going to take a closer look. I’m curious as to what they might look like. Have you seen any for Christy/Genesis and RITA winners?

    • Rachel Kent Rachel Kent says:

      I’ve seen Christy stickers for sure. Genesis books aren’t published yet.

      I haven’t looked for RITA stickers, but others might know.

      • I’ll have to look out for the Christy ones (and the others). Thanks.
        So I am wondering though if the novels that won the Genesis, if they end up getting published, if there is such a thing as Genesis stickers for those books.

  • I have to be honest and say I’ve never bought a book solely because it’s won an award. I’ll definitely browse Newbery and Caldecott winners, but the cover (first) and then the back cover blurb must capture my attention for me to even consider it.

    I didn’t seek awards for my first book. Maybe I should have. Even if I don’t buy based upon awards, others might–as indicated by the discussions here. Part of it was simply the time necessary to research and enter contests.

  • Oh, and thanks for a great post, Rachel. :)

  • Keli Gwyn says:

    My contest experiences played a huge role in getting me where I am today. I entered several RWA chapter-level contests in 2009, finaled and won a number of times in quick succession, and caught the eye of three editors and two agents, all of whom requested fulls. Knowing I wanted to work with an agent–and having received a request from the one at the top of my list–I chose to approach the agents first.

    Imagine my delight when, just one day after I’d sent the full, I saw that Dream Agent’s name in my inbox and a message that included the word’s many writers long to see, “I’d like to discuss the possibility of representation.” Rachelle offered; I accepted. She suggested I rewrite the story; I did. A year later she sold it. Two months from now my debut novel will appear on the shelves. I owe it in large part to contest finals–and the wise counsel of my savvy agent. :-)

  • Ann Bracken says:

    An award is what started me writing in the first place. A friend talked me into writing a short story (12k words) for an online contest. There were two awards – one was based on popularity, the other was judge’s choice. I won the judge’s choice award. From there I entered another online contest, and again won judge’s choice. That’s when I decided to try to write a novel.

    As for reading, I go mostly on friend’s recommendations.

  • Leah Good says:

    Rachel, do smaller contests make a difference to agents? Is placing in a contest (even a small one) a good thing to put on a query letter?

    The award most likely to influence my decision to buy or read a book is the Newbery Award.

  • As a reader and book-buyer, a secular award might actually turn me away. (They make me think of uber-boring required reading from sixth grade.) However, anything that has won or been nominated for the Christy award, or is written by an author who has won or been nominated, catches my interest regardless of subject material or intended audience.

  • Sarah Tipton says:

    Thanks for this post, Rachel. Contests have been on my mind.

    As a reader, I rarely pay attention to awards, but as a writer, it’s another story :-)

    Having been a finalist and winner in one writing contest boosted my confidence and my credibility—or at least my belief that I had credibility. It also provided me with four submission requests, two which were directly related to being a finalist. And that provided me with four rejections, moving me closer to finding an agent :-)

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