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All That Glitters

Whenever a book wins a major literary award, people start asking the same questions: Did the winner deserve it? Was another, better book overlooked? Why do we care so much to begin with?

Amit Chaudhuri’s recent opinion piece in The Guardian is case-in-point. Chaudhuri feels like the books labeled “prize-winners” often aren’t as innovative as we’d like to think. Instead, unseen market forces pull the strings and determine the winners.

Chaudhuri makes good points, but he’s talking about traditionally published authors. I want to know what awards mean to Indie authors.

The most prestigious awards exclude Indie authors. Depending on your point of view, this might be a blessing; mainstream authors often find that prizes are a “double-edged sword.” For most, the lack of recognition still stings, even if it’s not surprising. After all, the literary establishment has a bad habit of ignoring non-traditionally published books.

This is why Indie authors created their own awards. You’ve probably heard of some of them: the Indie Excellence Award, the Benjamin Franklin Award, Readers’ Favorite Awards…

Clearly, awards matter to us, too, or we wouldn’t have bothered. But why?

Indie authors have always been aware of the economic realities of book awards. For many, submitting their books to open-minded judges is a major part of their marketing strategy. Yet you won’t find the same angst about the evils of capitalism here.

It’s easy to decry the market when it has already accepted your work. We forget that traditionally published books pass through an exclusive gate-keeping system before reaching the shelves, let alone the review committees. These books made it down the conveyer because all along the way, industry professionals thought they had value, whether artistic or monetary.

In the Indie world, there aren’t as many gate-keepers. This is wonderful, because it allows more people to publish than ever before. The downside is that if anything goes, readers can’t be guaranteed a good read.

For Indie authors, awards matter because they give this guarantee. The average reader may not take a chance on an Indie author because of the unfortunate stigma that still surrounds self-published work. That reader might reconsider if they see a shiny sticker on the book’s cover.

That sticker tells them that an industry professional read the book and thought it was worthwhile, the best of a whole list of candidates. Positive reviews do something similar, but nothing conveys value faster than a flash of gold.

If our hypothetical reader trusts that sticker, reads the book, and likes it, they might be willing to give other Indie books a chance as well. The more awards accept Indie work, the more this can happen, and the more legitimacy non-traditional authors will have.

Whether you agree with the existence of literary awards or not, this is hardly a bad outcome. For Indie authors, the path to acceptance may very well be paved with gold.

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