Awards can be a great way to score some positive publicity for a book. If your marketing materials include awards, the book becomes not just a book, but a book with merit. This is not to say books without awards are meritless—there are just too many great books out there. Many factors dictate award eligibility, and not all awards are held in equal regard by the book’s audience; the audience’s perception makes some awards worth more to a book marketer than others.
Awards like the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize, and the Nobel Prize in Literature are recognizable to the general public, so the publicity from winning these awards can help to increase book sales. There are genre-specific awards as well, such as the Hugo Award for science fiction or the Lambda Literary Award for LGBTQ books. These awards are well known by genre readers and signify as much as the larger trade awards. On the other hand, lesser-known awards may not noticeably impact sales.
The question then becomes, which awards should a publisher apply for? Applying for awards is a time commitment; it can also leave a significant dent in the marketing budget, especially when a publisher submits several books for consideration. It costs $135 to submit a book for the National Book Award and $50 for the Pulitzer Prize. And it’s not just the major awards that have application fees; smaller awards cost money as well. When applying for awards, a publisher should consider the effect on sales and weigh the entry cost against the potential for success. Sometimes the money and time it would take to apply is not worth the minimal sales boost.
Of course, some awards don’t even allow publisher submissions. For example, the winner of the Hugo Award is decided entirely by readers. In this instance, it is crucial to get the book into the hands of the readers who will nominate and vote for the book. Spending money on award applications might not make sense for books that qualify for key reader-nominated awards.
A book’s success doesn’t always hinge on whether it gets lots of awards. What matters most is getting the book in readers’ hands and on their radar; awards are only one of many ways to accomplish this. Awards look great on marketing material, but a publisher doesn’t need to spend a disproportionate amount of time and money on awards that don’t resonate with its target audience; a better approach is to apply for a strategic few, and consider awards the icing on the cake—not the whole cake.