How important are awards and contests to a writing life/career?

It’s award season!

I love awards shows. The Oscars, Golden Globes, Emmys, Tonys, Grammys, Screen Actor’s Guild, if it’s televised, I’m probably going to watch. I enjoy the categories of Costume Design and Sound Editing as much as I do the Best Actress and Actor. But the categories I love the most are the writing ones: Best Screenplay, Best Adaptation, Best Writing. 

Oscars Statuette

I’m not going to lie, when I was a child, my friends and I would dream of winning Best Actress. Yes, we were the type who practiced our acceptance speech with a hairbrush or shampoo bottle.

That was before I really paid attention to the awards shows and discovered the categories for writing.

Probably at the same time, I discovered literary awards like the Booker Prize, Giller Prize, and the Governor General Awards. The last two being Canadian literary awards. Winning one of those awards entered my dreams.

And as I moved into writing Fantasy, I discovered the Hugos and World Fantasy Awards, and so many more.

How much does a writing award win boost book sales?

Traditionally, awards do a lot to boost sales. Especially for the literary awards like the Booker or the Giller, quite often those books don’t have great sales — they aren’t expected to — until they are shortlisted. When they win, the major prize money and the thousands of sales that come with a win can be life-changing.

Winning the Hugo or the World Fantasy Award doesn’t come with the same kind of prize money or world-wide recognition, but for fans of that genre it can make a big difference too.

There are some awards and contests that may not necessarily have as much immediate impact.

Mabel the Lovelorn Dwarf winning the Writer’s Digest Self-Published E-Book Award Cover of Mabel the Lovelorn Dwarf, Winnier of the Writer's Digest Self-Published Ebook Awardis a prime example.

I was ecstatic to have won. There was a cash prize and a nice selection of books to go with it. I expected a boost in sales once Writer’s Digest publicized the winners both in their magazine and on Twitter. That didn’t happen. 

However, do you see that little round sticker on the cover? The one that says 1st place winner? Yeah, that’s a nice little piece of decoration I was ecstatic to add to the cover. Why? When I’m out at conventions with my book in the dealer’s room, or selling it at a craft market, it grabs people’s attention. That little circle has helped sell books. 

But aren’t writing awards just popularity contests?

Yes and no.

I like to believe the best in the voting populace, that they’ll vote honestly for the book they feel is worthy of the award. I’m well aware that that doesn’t always happen. 

Having been a judge for juried awards, I don’t always think the best story wins. Compromises sometimes have to be made. Again, though, I like to believe the best in the judges, to believe that they are putting the best work forward for the win.

But let’s face it. No one is going to agree 100%. There will always be someone who questions the results, believing someone else should have been nominated, someone else should have one. 

Unless there’s obvious manipulation of the nominations and of the voting itself (which there has been, most notably for the Hugos), in the end, it would be fair to believe that the best did win.

Is winning a writing award necessary?

Awards are great. If I ever happen to win one, I will not complain. Being nominated is also fabulous. There is definitely a feeling of accomplishment and recognition that comes with it.

The total number of amazing books and scripts and poems that never win by far exceeds the number that win. Winning, isn’t everything. Every writer can build just as amazing a career, or even better, than the biggest award winners.

Because the only opinions that really matter, are those of your reader.

So enter awards and writing contests. If there is a fee associated with entry, just make sure it is legitimate, that you get enough of a return for entry, like feedback from the judges. 

But the most important thing you can do for your writing career, to boost book sales (in addition to marketing, but that’s a whole other beast entirely), is to write the best book you can. And then write the next, and the next.

And in the meantime, I’m going to enjoy watching all the awards shows, celebrating the nominees, all the hard work they have put into getting to the top.

Until next time…

Happy Writing!

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