Thoughts on Book Awards from a New Recruit

Believing In Horses Wins First Place in Children's Category, Stars and Flags Book Awards

One of my mentors used to tell young Navy recruits the following: “You may think you are new and don’t know much, but as soon as you’ve spent a day in the Navy, you know more than those who have just arrived. You are a mentor, and it’s up to you to share your knowledge with those coming in behind you.”

I decided to apply this to my new writing career. I still consider myself that “young recruit” who doesn’t know much, so am surprised when people ask me advice. But then again, I look at how much I’ve learned in the past few years through reading, courses, conferences, associations, and most importantly, doing. So, I thought I’d share my thoughts on a topic on which I don’t see too much written – book awards.

I’ve seen and heard opinions on book awards varying from “it’s the best thing to gain notice for your book,” to “it’s a waste of time and money.” My opinion: it depends. I remember when first developing my marketing plan I tore through the pages of my Children’s Writer’s and Illustrators Market, wrote down every contest for which my book would be eligible, anticipating entering. As the deadlines neared, I considered the fees, the numbers of books required, and how my book would compete. Then I stopped and asked myself the most important question: “What do I want out of this?”

So far, I’ve yet to enter any of those contests in my original plan, but I will share my personal experiences over the past few months in entering three awards programs.

  1. Question: What did I want?

    Answer: A parent-tested “seal of approval”.

    Discussion: This was important to me. I know many current middle grade and young adult books address very mature themes, but mine does not. I wanted readers and buyers to know that, and felt this type award demonstrated this. Yes, I was thrilled when receiving word that Believing In Horses received the “Best Product” award and the coveted seal of approval. The award provided me what I wanted – an unbiased opinion that my book was suitable for a young audience. I received the actual five sets of evaluations from parent evaluators, providing me excellent feedback, and testimonials –another bonus, for participating in this program.

  2. Book Twirps Summer Reads Contest

    Question: What did I want?

    Answer: A sense for Young Adult book bloggers’ thoughts on the book.

    Discussion: I put together my rather-simple package and submitted my entry, which only included a synopsis — all for free. A few months passed, and I received notification that Book Twirps cancelled the contest because they did not receive enough entries for them to consider it a real contest. Wow, I thought, all these people complaining about not getting people to recognize their work, and here went an opportunity for authors to be recognized – for free. Although the cancellation should have turned out to be a bummer, the contest took an unexpectedly good twist. Book Twirps offered the judges who had been lined up for the contest the opportunity to contact authors if they were interested in reviewing any of the books. I ended up getting a great review by well-known book blogger Jennifer Cheatham, who posted the review to many blogs and sites.

  3. Question: What did I want?

    Answer: The military audience’s perspective.

    Discussion: I found out about the Stars and Flags Book Awards through my membership in the Military Writers Society of America (MWSA) – a great organization, by the way. The criteria for Stars and Flags awards included some type of military connection in the book; my main character deals with the challenges of being part of a military family, such as deployments and moves. With my 25-years’ military experience, I cared what the military audience thought of my book. Fortunately, they liked it, awarding Believing In Horses First Place in the Children’s Category.

    I’m not an expert, but I know more now than I did a few years ago. And I’ve culled and collected thoughts and recent references on book awards and contests from AuthorU, Her Circle, and The Savvy Book Marketer, to share, since like I said, I don’t see a lot written on book awards.

Author U: “Which Book Award Contests Merit Your Attention?”

Her Circle: “Notes from the Slush Pile – Advice on Book Contests and Some Confessions”

The Savvy Book Marketer: “Upcoming Book Awards and Contests.”

     I discussed my personal experiences here because they have not been captured elsewhere. And after all, this is a blog, and I think it should be somewhat personal. You may also notice that the answers to what I wanted DID NOT include the words, “to sell more books.” (Did anyone else just hear my publisher screaming, “Nnnnnoooo!”?)

I hope what you do works for you, and that you think about what you want out of a contest when entering.  Oftentimes, there’s more than one way to win.

Parent Tested Parent Approved Best Product Award


  1. New Blog post: Thoughts on Book Awards from a New Recruit. including @AuthorU @bookmarketer @HerCircleEzine

  2. Mark Bowlin Says:

    Val, Congratulations on the Stars and Stripes Award! I didn’t know, but I think it’s wonderful.
    I don’t know that I’ve accrued a great deal of wealth from winning the MWSA awards, but I’m very proud of them I consider them as peer-review….

    • Thanks, Mark, and yes, “peer review” is an excellent choice of words! You’re also helping make one of my points — you introduced this new recruit to MWSA. Keep writing those award-winning novels; we’re all very proud of you.