Indie-Friendly Book Reviews and Awards
When my small press published adult novel, Dirt Cheap, appeared in 2006, it received few reviews and no awards. Sales were disappointing.
My publisher, Curbstone Press, gave me a second chance. This usually doesn’t happen with a major publisher. If you don’t make sales expectations, your publisher drops you, your agent fires you, and you have to write under a pseudonym, try a small press, or self-publish. However, my editor, the late Alexander “Sandy” Taylor, said he always judged each new project on its merits, not on how the author’s last book sold. And he loved my next novel, the young adult/adult crossover Gringolandia, the story of a refugee teen from Chile living with the aftermath of his father’s imprisonment and torture under the Pinochet dictatorship.
I was grateful for my editor’s support and vowed to make a more concerted effort to help get Gringolandia reviewed in the important trade journals and considered for awards. These trade journals—Kirkus Reviews, Booklist, School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Horn Book, and Voice of Youth Advocates—are particularly important because a library needs at least two positive reviews in order to add a book to its collection and school and public library sales are especially important for children’s books. Also important are awards, which help a book stand out in a crowded field and can lead to course adoptions or a place on a school’s summer reading list. For commercial books published by major houses, positive reviews and awards don’t necessarily translate into sales, nor do negative reviews hurt sales, as shown by the success of the Twilight series. For small press published books, however, reviews and awards convey credibility and create an appealing narrative of “the little book that could.”
Of the six major reviewers, Gringolandia received five positive reviews. Only Publishers Weekly, the most commercially oriented of the six, declined to review it. One of the lessons I learned from the failure of Dirt Cheap was the importance of getting advance reading copies (ARCs) of the books in by each review journal’s deadline, which can run from two months in advance of publication to six. A second lesson was the importance of blurbs, endorsements from well-known and respected authors. A blurb by the award-winning Canadian author Deborah Ellis, who has written extensively about refugees and children of combatants around the world, attracted notice from reviewers. Several prominent bloggers known to be open to small press children’s books supported Gringolandia and brought it to the attention of awards committees. These included (thank you/mil gracias!) Liz Burns at A Chair, A Fireplace, A Tea Cozy, Shelley at Semicolon, Kim Bacciella at Young Adult Books Central, Ari at Reading in Color, and Ed Spicer at SpicyReads. As a result of their efforts, Gringolandia was named to the American Library Association’s Best Books for Young Adults list, the Bank Street Best Children’s Books list, and the list of ForeWord Book of the Year finalists. It received an IPPY Gold Medal from the Independent Publishers Association in the Children’s Multicultural Fiction category and the Américas Award Honorable Mention from the Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs.
Since small press books often don’t get a “look in” from major reviewers and awards committees, the blurbs take on an outsized importance, as does early support from bloggers. (A friend of mine owes AmazonEncore’s republication of her self-published book to a review and strong support from Colleen Mondor at Chasing Ray and Bookslut Kids, another good blogger to approach.) At the same time, you should also pursue reviewers who openly solicit small press books, as well as awards that are “indie friendly.” Among the indie friendly print reviewers, Midwest Book Review and ForeWord Magazine are the best known. If your book addresses diversity issues, MultiCultural Review, Teaching Tolerance, and Skipping Stones are good places to send review copies. Skipping Stones also reviews environmental and nature books.
Indie friendly awards help libraries, schools, and individual buyers to know that your book is well written, an outstanding work of its genre, and, in the case of nonfiction and historical/multicultural fiction, an accurate and authentic treatment of its subject. For small presses that can’t afford ARCs or missed the reviewers’ deadlines, indie friendly awards offer a second chance at recognition, because only finished books can be entered.
If your book is published by a small press, you should check with your publisher to see who is supposed to nominate the book—the publisher or the author—and to make sure your book doesn’t slip between the cracks because you think your publisher is nominating, and they think you are. Most of these awards charge fees of $50 to $100, but some, like Skipping Stones, will waive the fees for publishers that can’t afford them. The Skipping Stones Honor Awards, are given to children’s and young adult books in two categories—Multicultural/International and Nature/Ecology. Both nonfiction and fiction are eligible. Although major houses also submit their books, at least half the Honor Awards each year go to small press titles.
The ForeWord Book of the Year Awards and the IPPYs are the largest source of general small press book awards. Each of these features dozens of categories, but they don’t always overlap. For instance, my publisher entered Gringolandia in the Young Adult Fiction category for the ForeWord BOTY awards and the Children’s Multicultural Fiction category for the IPPYs. If you have a picture book, various parenting magazines bestow awards that are frequently won by small press titles. These include the prestigious Parents’ Choice awards. You should also consider specialized awards, such as the Americas Award for books set in Latin America, the Caribbean, or Latino communities in the United States; the Children’s Africana Book Award for books set on the African continent; the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award for books about peace and international understanding; or the Horace Mann Upstanders Award for picture books that present children making a difference in their world. Small press titles have won a significant share of all these awards.
Although most of the awards have deadlines after January 1, 2011 for 2010 titles, it’s never too early to start researching these awards and getting your entries in. Some have early bird discounts on the nomination fees, and you don’t want to lose out because you’ve missed your deadline by one day. So get those review copies and award entries in, and keep your fingers crossed!