IPPY Book Awards

The IPPY Book Awards are run by the Jenkins Group. The full name of these awards are the Independent Publisher Book Awards. Just what are these awards about, and why should you enter them?

Many (if not most) novel awards out there require for you to be supported by a large, known publisher. Whether they're mystery awards or sci-fi awards, often they completely exclude self-published books. I find that to be incredibly unfair. What if you're a talented mystery writer and you just haven't found the right publisher yet? Should you be barred from entering your book into the contest?

This is where the IPPY awards come in. The IPPY awards are explicitly FOR the self-published and small press books - the ones who don't get a fair chance to be noticed. The IPPY awards have been around since 1996, so they have a proven track record. This isn't a brand new, fly-by-night operation. They've put in their time and have shown their commitment to the industry.

The IPPY awards have a HUGE range of categories. You can enter for "Children's Picture Book 7 and Under." You can enter for "Transportation (Automotive/Aviation/Railroad)." So you're not going up against every other non-fiction writer or fiction writer in the world. You're only going against your own category. This gives you a better chance of winning and also a better sense that you really did win out against your peers.

Yes, some categories are fairly huge. "Romance" is one giant category. "Suspense / Thriller" is one giant category. But still, at least that is separate from "Mystery / Cozy / Noir." Many organizations just lump those all together into one big group.

In 2013, two of my novels won IPPY awards. My modern mystery story Aspen Allegations - A Sutton Mass. Mystery won a gold medal in the regional - east category. Here's an example of where the sub-categories get interesting. I did enter this in the mystery - cozy - noir category, but that category is filled with millions of other people with a wide variety of mystery stories. It's hard to stand out there. So I also entered the book as a "regional" book - i.e. a book that features the landscapes and scenery of a specific region. I heavily mention the nature, landscapes, wildlife, and history of central Massachusetts in my story. The IPPY people agreed - I earned a gold for this story. The regional - east category covers all US land east of the Mississippi.

I also won a silver medal for Finding Peace - A Medieval Romance. Again, I entered this into multiple categories. I entered it as a romance - but here it had to stand up against all sorts of bodice-rippers and serious adult stories. My stories are gentle, more Pride & Prejudice than 50 Shades of Grey. So I also entered it in the Young Adult section. This is where it won the silver.

As a winner, you and a friend get a ticket to their award ceremony in New York City. They don't pay for transportation, hotel, or anything else. You only get to get in to the club. They do have appetizers and drinks at the club for the three or so hours of the ceremony. The ceremony is in a small room so even though only a portion of winners attend, it's still packed. It's standing room only. Each person gets their name called, they go up to get their medal, and a picture is taken with them and their book. Then the next name is called. So it's fairly quick, and even so it takes all the time to get through all the people there.

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That's my dad in the photo with me :). He came out to give me moral support. I was shaking like a leaf.

When you leave the award ceremony, you have four things. You have an 8x10 certificate with your book name on it. You have a medal on a ribbon. You have a handful of embossed seals to stick on your books. You also have a brochure that lists all the winners for the evening.

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And, of course, you have the warm glow inside you of having reached this milestone :).

There are several things to note about the IPPY awards.

They are Expensive
The entry fee per book for the IPPY awards can get up to $95 per book per category. You can see how that racks up quite quickly if you have multiple books and want to try for multiple categories per book.

They are Not Very Communicative
You barely get a confirmation of your entry - and you barely get told when the winners are announced. Usually you have to lurk on their website and hit "refresh" on the various pages to see when they finally post the winners. You don't get personally contacted when you win. You just have to find out for yourself. You don't get any feedback. When I won, their promo material talks about how great it is to have the judge notes to use in your marketing material. I wrote them several times asking them for the judge notes. I never got any.

On the other hand, once they have your email address, they DO email you regularly trying to get you to buy their marketing and publishing services.

They Don't Read the Whole Book
They state clearly in their material that they don't read every entry. They might just read your first page or two and decide it's not worth continuing, when you had the best rest of the book out of all entries. They say that this is the way "real readers" work, too, and perhaps that's true. I suppose I expect more from a judging group that I paid $95 to. Especially since I don't get any feedback at all about why they did what they did.

What do you Really Win?
When you win, you get a 8x10 certificate, a shiny medal on a ribbon, and a few embossed seals. That's it. If you want to go to New York City to their award ceremony, you pay your own way to get there and stay there. Yes, you get some appetizers and drinks. When they call your name, you go up, take the medal, get your picture taken, and sit down again. With the hundreds of people being awarded medals, there isn't any time for anything else. No speeches, no lingering waves to the audience. Up, snap, down. Next. When I attended in 2013 I'd say less than a third of winners attended. They just skip over the people who aren't there. Well, technically, there is a projection on the back wall of the winners for a given category, so you can SEE their names, but they only call the name of the next actual person in the room.

Why Enter the IPPY Awards?
This might sound like a lot of negative material, but I do still think you should enter the IPPYs. Why? Well, first, there aren't a lot of other options out there. You can enter the Amazon awards, but only one person wins that. Here LOTS of people win so you have a far better chance of earning that medal. And having the medal, and the photos, is HUGE in terms of marketing. Having that gold seal on your book can encourage many potential readers to buy it. It's a mark of quality. Sending the photo of you with your medal around to local papers is a great way to get interviewed. That then leads to book signings, library readings, and lots of sales. It's all about marketing. It's about having that shiny gold medal to plaster all over everything - your Facebook fan page, your Twitter page, your webpage, your books, your press releases, etc. It's the way to stand out from the millions of other options people have out there.

So, to summarize, I'd definitely enter the IPPY awards. Just enter early, so you pay the least possible. Narrow down your category carefully so you enter in the one, best category for your book. Make sure you check their page regularly when the winner time comes around - they aren't going to let you know if you won. And be prepared for the marketing messages they're going to send you as part of this. If you DO win, market market market. This win is ALL about marketing hard and heavy. Your investment of $95 (or whatever) is in essence a marketing fee, and if you win, you want to optimize that to be of the best possible use to you.

Good luck!

IPPY Book Awards - official page

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