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How To Be an Award Winner

A Web search of “contests for self-published authors” turns up more than 700,000 results. With so many options, submitting your book for literary contests may seem overwhelming; but as with any marketing initiative for your book, the effort can be well worth the potential payoff.

“As one of our past winners said, ‘It gives a stamp of third-party approval that self-published books usually lack,’” said Whitney Hallberg, senior editor at ForeWord Reviews, sponsor of the Book of the Year Awards for independently published authors.

Build a Better Book

“Publishing a book is such an exciting thing for every author. But it’s important for authors to remember to take the time to make the best book they possibly can before publishing it and submitting it to awards competitions,” Hallberg said.

Hallberg said a book entered into a contest should represent an author’s best effort. To that end, professional editing and design are key investments.

“People do judge books by their covers, so it’s important to have a crisp and attractive cover and spine, and a concise, intriguing, well-written synopsis on the back cover,” Hallberg said.

Even authors who have already published their book can make edits and publish another edition. It’s never too late to make your book the best it can be.

Choose Wisely

  • Most writing contests charge an entry fee, or will at least require that you provide copies of your book. Consider your marketing budget and evaluate whether the price is worth your possible return.
  • When you learn of a contest that interests you, find out more. Is the contest sponsored by a reputable or recognizable organization? Are the contest rules plainly and clearly stated? Is there a way to find or even contact past winners?
  • Picking the right category could make the difference between receiving an award and being overlooked. Leonie Tremaine, co-author of Adios, Aries, a finalist in the 2010 Next Generation Indie Book Awards, said her book is mystery, New Age and romantic, so the “First Book” category was the best option. “So often the reason we choose to self-publish is because our books don't fit into a publisher's often rigid category requirements,” said Tremaine. “So my advice is to choose a category that will give your book the best chance to shine.”

What Are Judges Looking For?

Each contest is a little bit different, but to give you an idea of how judges will evaluate your book, Hallberg offers up the ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Award judging criteria:
1. Editorial excellence
Is the book well-written without awkward sentences, typos or formatting errors?
For fiction, does it have well-developed characters with natural dialogue and a coherent plot?

For nonfiction, are the chapters well-organized with clear information and useful charts or illustrations?

2. Intent of book met by author
Do we feel enlightened after reading your meditation book? Did your thriller thrill us?

3. Originality of subject matter
Have we seen this information or this plot too many times before?

4. Accuracy
This is especially important for nonfiction books.

5. Author Credentials
It’s important to know something about the author’s background—especially if they’ve written a nonfiction book. Even in the case of fiction or poetry, it’s nice to know if their work has been published anywhere before or if they’ve won any literary awards. Even for debut novels, a relevant author bio is an important part of a book.

6. Professional packaging
Your cover design should be visually appealing, and your copy error-free.



adios aries cover

"My advice is to choose a category that will give your book the best chance to shine."


Leonie Tremaine, co-author, Adios, Aries










  • Is my book eligible?
  • Is my book as good as it can be?
  • Is the contest legitimate and reputable?
  • What materials and/or fee are required?
  • What is the value of winning?