Contest Tips from Indie Book Awards Judge

If you are a published author, whether published in the mainstream or independently, the marketing and promotion of your title(s) will be your responsibility.

Unless you are a celebrity or are very well connected, you will be the one who has to capture the attention of readers and convince them to buy your book.

You can pursue recognition via reviews, social media displays, personal appearances, TV coverage, and more. You need look no further than your local library or on the Internet to find thousands of book marketing ideas.

One dramatic way to capture the spotlight for your book is to win a prize in a book awards contest. Cash prizes, publicity by the contest sponsors, introduction to literary agents and publishers, and “prize winner” stickers on your book cover are among the benefits.

If your book manuscript has not yet been published, there are contests that invite writers to submit unpublished works. Winners and finalists of these contests greatly improve their chances of being offered publishing opportunities.

Some contests offer winners a publishing contract!

How to Enter and Win Book Award Contests

– Find contests that best fit your genre and audience. Don’t make the mistake of sending your novel, for example, to a contest that only judges nonfiction. Many of the top national contests are listed below, and there are dozens more sponsored by local, state, and regional writers associations. Read their submission guidelines carefully.

– If the contest allows it, enter your title in more than one category, giving yourself multiple chances to win. It costs more, but it leads to your work being judged by more than one person.

– Be sure your work has been edited before you submit it for judging. I can’t stress this enough. Judges look at all elements of your work, such as style, clarity, reader engagement, plot and character development (in fiction), use of language, and mechanics. Yes, spelling, grammar, and punctuation do matter and, if poorly done, will sink your chances when compared to error-free prose.

– Check out the quality of the judges. Be wary of contests that do not provide information about the backgrounds of their judges.

– Also be wary of high entry fees. Comparison shopping helps.

– If you’ve never heard of the contest, check it out further. It could be a profiteering group, an individual padding his or her pockets, or a company that not only offers the contest but also trinkets to buy in association with the contest. These are all red flags.

– Look for contests that have a name known regionally or nationally. Steer clear of international contests that you haven’t heard of. For relatively unknown contests, it can be difficult to find out whether their prizes are actually awarded, and, if they are not, what you as a winner or finalist can do to claim that prize.

– Read the entry form carefully and be sure you’re not signing away any of your rights to the contest sponsors. Be sure you understand every provision and guideline. If there is a fee associated with winning a prize, walk away. Don’t pay a fee in order to accept a prize. That’s always a scam.

– National contests offer higher cash prizes, but they also attract more entries, which increases the competition dramatically. Most contests name one winner in each category, plus several finalists. Therefore, if your submission is one of thousands, your chances of winning go down. Regional, state, and local contests, such as those sponsored by local writers associations, attract fewer entries. Winning a local contest can lead to cash prizes and recognition online and in print, making you a local celebrity.

– When you win or are named as a finalist, go to the awards ceremony if possible. There you will receive person-to-person accolades that often lead to photo-ops, colorful publicity, opportunities to meet other authors for networking, invitations to speak at local venues, and a chance to make a lasting impression on a “live” audience.

National Book Contests

The Next Generation Indie Book Awards

This contest for independently published books is one with which I am familiar because I have been one of the judges for many years.

The Next Generation Indie Book Awards is a not-for-profit book awards program for independent publishers and self-published authors. In its twelfth year of operation, the contest was founded by Marilyn Allen of Allen O’Shea Literary Agency, Catherine Goulet of FabJob Inc., and Independent Book Publishing Professionals Group.

The Indie Book Awards honor and award the top independently published books of the year. With more than 70 categories, entries are open to indie book authors and publishers worldwide, including small presses, mid-size independent publishers, university presses, e-book publishers, and self-published authors who have a book written in English and released in the year of the awards program or the two years preceding. Entry fees and submission deadlines are available on the website.

The Indie Book Awards offers monetary prizes totaling more than $10,000, along with recognition and media exposure to winners and finalists, including $1,500 cash prizes for best fiction book and best non-fiction book, $750 cash prizes for second best fiction and non-fiction book and $500 cash prizes for third best fiction book and non-fiction book. Category winners each receive a $100 cash prize.

Additionally, all winning books receive exposure to a leading New York Literary Agent for possible representation, foreign rights, film rights, and other rights.

“Independently-published books have become a major source for quality fiction and non-fiction, but often go unrecognized by the mainstream publishing industry,” notes one of the founders, Marilyn Allen. “The Next Generation Indie Book Awards has been created to recognize talented authors from this important segment of our industry. Our agency represents over 100 authors and we’re always looking for new talent, so it is a great pleasure to be part of this program. We look forward to reviewing the works of the 70 best candidates and helping these authors gain the recognition they deserve.”

Another perk of being a Winner or Finalist of a literary award contest such as the Next Generation Indie Book Awards is that an author can then market their book as an “award winning book,” which brings more attention and potential sales.

Judges for the Next Generation Indie Book Awards are actively involved in the book publishing industry and range from literary agents to editors to successful independent publishers. The judges also include publishing executives, book reviewers, writing teachers, successful published authors, and experts in the various areas of judging, including book design.


The Kirkus Prize

The Kirkus Prize is one of the richest literary awards in the world, with a prize of $50,000 bestowed annually to authors of fiction, nonfiction and young readers’ literature. It was created to celebrate the 85 years of discerning, thoughtful criticism Kirkus Reviews has contributed to both the publishing industry and readers at large.

The Kirkus Prize has three categories: the Kirkus Prize for Fiction, the Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction and the Kirkus Prize for Young Readers’ Literature. Both traditionally published and self-published books reviewed by Kirkus that earn the Kirkus Star are eligible. See website for details.

Each of the three categories is evaluated by three highly regarded judges: a writer, a bookseller or librarian, and a Kirkus critic. Judges are chosen for their intellectual curiosity, sense of fairness and wide knowledge of literary excellence across the various genres within the category of books they’re judging. Judges confer among themselves to choose the six finalists in their categories.

Website for kirkus prize:

Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards

Whether you’re a professional writer, a part-time freelancer or a self-starting student, here’s your chance to enter this premier competition exclusively for self-published books. Writer’s Digest hosts an annual self-published competition: the Annual Self-Published Book Awards. This self-published competition spotlights today’s self-published works and honors self-published authors.


One Grand Prize winner will receive:

  • $8,000 in cash
  • A feature article about you and your book for the March/April 2019 issue of Writer’s Digest
  • A press release from Writer’s Digest, to be sent, along with a copy of your book, to 10 different major publishing review houses
  • A paid trip to the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference, including a coveted Pitch Slam slot

One First Prize winner in each category will receive:

  • $1,000 in cash
  • Promotion in the March/April 2019 issue of Writer’s Digest

All Grand Prize and First Prize winners will:

  • Be featured on the Writer’s Digest website
  • Receive $100 worth of Writer’s Digest Books
  • Receive a digital award seal for use in promoting your win.
  • Honorable Mention Winners will receive promotion on and a digital seal for use in promoting your win.

All entrants will receive a brief commentary from one of the judges.


Mainstream/Literary Fiction
Genre Fiction
Life Stories (Biographies, Autobiographies, Family Histories, Memoirs)
Early Readers/Children’s Picture books
Middle-Grade/Young Adult

How to Enter

All entrants must send a printed and bound book. You may register your book online. All books not registered online must be accompanied by an Official Entry Form. You may enter more than one book and/or more than one category; however, you must include a separate book, entry form and the additional fee for each entry. Entry fees are available on the website.

The competition is open to all English language self-published books for which the authors have paid the full cost of publication, or the cost of printing has been paid for by a grant or as part of a prize.

For more information, consult contest website:

National Book Awards

The National Book Awards were established in 1950 to celebrate the best writing in America. Since 1989, they have been overseen by the National Book Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to celebrate the best of American literature, to expand its audience, and to enhance the cultural value of great writing in America. Although other categories have been recognized in the past, the Awards currently honors the best Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Translated Literature, and Young People’s Literature published each year.

A panel of judges selects a Longlist of ten titles per category, which is then narrowed to five Finalists, and a Winner is announced at the Awards Ceremony in the fall. Each Finalist receives a prize of $1,000, a medal, and a Judge’s citation. Winners receive $10,000 and a bronze sculpture. The Awards Ceremony is one of the most anticipated events for writers, publishers, and readers eager to celebrate the best books of the year.

How does the judging process work?

Each year, the Foundation assembles twenty-five distinguished writers, translators, critics, librarians, and booksellers to judge the National Book Awards. Submissions open in mid-March. For the Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Young People’s Literature Awards, judges consider only books written by authors who are U.S. citizens and authors who have been approved via the petition process. For the Translated Literature Award, neither author nor translator is required to be U.S. citizens. All books under consideration must have been published in the United States between December 1 of the previous year and November 30 of the current year. Only publishers may nominate books for the National Book Award, although Panel Chairs can request books publishers have not nominated.

Each category has a panel of five Judges who have expertise in that category. Judges are nominated by past National Book Award Winners, Finalists, and Judges, and then selected and recruited by the Foundation’s Executive Director. Each Judge receives an honorarium. The panel changes every year. Panels develop their own criteria for the National Book Award, and discussions are held independent of the Foundation. The National Book Foundation’s Board of Directors and staff take no part in these deliberations, except to help determine a submission’s eligibility.

The panel meets on the day of the National Book Awards Ceremony in November to select the Winners.

How do submissions work?

Submissions for the National Book Awards open each March. In order to be eligible for the National Book Award for Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Young People’s Literature, a book must be written by an American citizen or approved via the petition process. For the Translated Literature Award, neither author nor translator is required to be a U.S. citizen. The book must have been published by a U.S. publisher between December 1 of the previous year and November 30 of the current year. The Foundation sends the official guidelines and submission forms to publishers in its database. Authors cannot submit books directly, and self-published books are only eligible if the author/publisher publishes the work of other authors in addition to their own.

Submissions are due by May 15, along with an entry fee, which is available on the website. Publishers must also mail one copy of each entered book to the Foundation and each of the five judges in the appropriate category by July 1.

How are the Longlists, Finalists, and Winners chosen?

Each panel reads all of the books submitted in their category over the course of the summer. This number typically ranges from 150 titles (Poetry) to upwards of 500 titles (Nonfiction). As of 2013, each panel compiles a Longlist of ten titles, to be announced in mid-September. They will then narrow down that list to five Finalists, to be announced in mid-October. They may arrive at these choices using whatever criteria they deem appropriate, as long as they do not conflict with the official Award guidelines.

On the day of the Awards Ceremony, each panel meets to determine the winner in their category. No one else, not even the Foundation staff, learns who the Winners are until they are announced at the Ceremony that evening.

What do the Awards entail?

The night before the Awards, each Finalist receives a prize of $1,000, a medal, and a citation from the panel at a private Medal Ceremony. Immediately following the Medal Ceremony, all twenty-five Finalists read from their nominated books at the Finalists Reading. The five Winners in Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Translated Literature, and Young People’s Literature are announced the following evening at the National Book Awards Ceremony and Benefit Dinner, where each Winner receives $10,000 and a bronze sculpture.

The IndieReader Discovery Awards

The IndieReader Discovery Awards (IRDAs) is a contest where undiscovered talent meets people with the power to make a difference.

What makes the IRDAs so unique is their panel of judges. This panel includes:

• A public relations professional
• A developmental editor from Reedsy
• The Director of Author and Publishing Relations at Amazon
• Two editors from Kirkus

Entries are judged based on content, originality and writing quality.

In addition to announcement coverage in top consumer (Huffington Post, The Wall Street Journal) and trade publications (Publisher’s Weekly, GoodeReader), top winners of the IndieReader Discovery Awards receive:

  • Kindle Paperwhites
  • IndieReader and Kirkus pro reviews
  • A custom author website
  • And most importantly, first look consideration from New York City-based literary agents, Dystel, Goderich, and Bourret

And it’s not just the winners who benefit. Every author who enters receives a verdict, written by one of IndieReaders’ professional reviewers. The verdict can be used as a promotional blurb and is a great way to add credibility to your book on your website as well as at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and GoodReads book pages.

The entry fee is available on the website. In addition to six main winners (top 3 fiction and 3 non-fiction titles), there is the potential for winning in 50+ subcategories, ranging from romance and science fiction to self-help and business.

The Eric Hoffer Award

Created in memoriam of renowned author Eric Hoffer, the Eric Hoffer Awards program honors 19 categories, including Art, Poetry, Fiction, Non-fiction, Business, Children, Young Adult, Self-Help, and others.

Category judges can include:

Publishing professionals such as:

  • editors
  • authors
  • agents

Literary aficionados such as:

  • librarians
  • artists
  • experienced readers
  • reviewers

The entry fee is available on the website. You do have the option to enter your book in more than one category; however, each entry requires a separate registration form and separate entry fee.

Prizes include a grand prize award of $2,000, as well as other medals, distinctions, and honors.

The Independent Publisher Book Awards

Known as the IPPYs, the Independent Publisher Book Awards program is geared toward independent, university and self-published titles worldwide.

The IPPYs accept applications in over 80 categories, including Best Regional Fiction, Best Regional Non-Fiction, Best First Book, Fine Art, Photography and many more.

Judging criteria include:

  • First Impression
  • Design
  • Originality
  • Use of Language
  • Message Delivery
  • Relevance

The IPPYs are advertised as the largest book awards competition, and prizes include gold, silver and bronze medals.

The entry fee is available on the website. Judges include experts in the fields of design, editing, reviewing, library and bookselling.

The IBPA’s Benjamin Franklin Awards

The Independent Book Publishers Association’s (IBPA) Benjamin Franklin Awards program accepts entries from all publishing models, including self-published and independent authors.

Judging is based on a variety of editorial criteria and design criteria, including:

  • Writing
  • Organization
  • Clarity
  • Cover essentials
  • Layout
  • Design

Judges come from many backgrounds including but not limited to:

  • Experienced industry professionals
  • Librarians
  • Bookstore owners
  • Reviewers designers
  • Editors
  • Publicity managers

Entry fees are available on the website.

The Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Award

The Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Awards seeks to recognize independent, self-published and university authors.

Categories include:

  • Fantasy
  • General
  • Historical
  • Horror
  • Erotica
  • Literary
  • Humor
  • LGBT
  • Multicultural
  • Mystery
  • Religion
  • Science Fiction

The panel of judges includes over 150 booksellers and librarians, working together with various industry professionals to narrow the field of competition and select the winners.

Entry fees for each book submission are available on the website.

Prizes include:

  • A Foreword INDIES marketing toolkit
  • Press releases, and announcements sent to over 10,000 media and industry professionals
  • Opportunities to participate in specially branded advertising

Genre-specific Contests

Some of the well-known, national organizations that sponsor genre-specific book award contests are:

Romance Writers of America, Mystery Writers of America, Society for Children Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), to name a few.

Your Free Gift!

Your Free Gift!

Self-publishing means keeping track of all the details. Your free checklist will help ensure that your self-publishing efforts are a success.

Subscribe and get it now.

You have Successfully Subscribed!