Earlier this year, we announced some thrilling news to Houston banker Bill Herrington. His memoir about Hurricane Katrina, Contraflow, won the prestigious 2017 Independent Publisher bronze for Best Regional Nonfiction (South U.S.).
His book was one of more than 5,000 entries that were submitted to the annual Independent Publisher Book Awards (IPPYs), the oldest, most established book awards in operation. For 21 years, the IPPYs have been honoring the year’s best independently published titles from around the world.
Not bad for a first-time author.
We wanted to know what made Contraflow stand out as a winner. So we asked the IPPY awards director, Jim Barnes, to share a few bits of insight with us.
But before we get to what he said . . .
Why does it matter?
The recognition of an award is a huge morale boost for you and your team. You’ll see renewed enthusiasm because your hard work is confirmed as credible. It didn’t hurt that we were whisked away to New York City to celebrate at the IPPY awards ceremony. And it’s rewarding for the other businesses and individuals who lent their names and support for your project.
An award also increases the visibility of your marketing campaign. You’ll have photo opportunities and will receive book seals that can added to your covers. You may be mentioned in a new wave of websites, press releases, and international articles to new audiences.
Ultimately, all of this means that your message may reach new people and lead to increased book sales.
Let’s get back to Jim’s insight.
What is considered?
Jim said IPPY book submissions are judged by longtime publishing experts. They narrow their selections based on the following six criteria, and then a committee selects the winners.
- First Impression
- Use of Language
- Message Delivery
These criteria underscore the importance of selecting a publishing team that will pay attention to every detail of your book – from writing and editing to design. “Books are judged by their covers,” Jim said, “so make sure your book looks really good. Your book title and cover should tell exactly what it’s about and what readers should expect.”
That’s why the author of Contraflow collaborated extensively on the book cover. He wanted to nail the exact colors, images, and words that would convey his message.
(If you’re in the Houston area and want to know more about creating your best book cover, join us for our upcoming talk, “Don’t Blow Your Cover,” hosted by the Houston Chapter of the Nonfiction Authors Association.)
Jim continued, “Opening lines should grab the reader and suggest great things ahead. Careful editing and proofreading are vital, especially in the early pages.” That’s why we opened the book with a line that is sure to stir curiosity:
“Right away, it was obvious that something was wrong.”
What is not considered?
Jim said there is one aspect that doesn’t tip the scales.
“We judge the book and only the book,” he said. “So any marketing material accompanying an entered book is discarded. We don’t pay any attention to reviews or publicity.”
Two things that spell doom
There are two red flags for a book – and they both have to do with being too vague. Jim said, “One thing I hear that spells doom for a book is, ‘You have to read about halfway into my book to really get it.’”
For this reason, the most heavily edited section of Contraflow was the Preface. We knew it was critical to establish the purpose of the book in the first few pages. (You can peek inside the book on Amazon to read the Preface for yourself.)
Jim said another red flag is when an author says, “My book is really hard to classify and kind of falls between a few different categories.” It’s important to thoughtfully consider your genre before you even start writing – and again when it’s time to enter it for an award.
There are more than 80 subject categories in the IPPYs, from economics to science fiction to cookbooks and coffee table books. Since Contraflow is part autobiographical and part regional, we consulted with a marketing guru, David Ivester of Author Guide, on the best category. David advised that we enter the Regional category because it’s not as broad as the Autobiography category. (We’re glad we listened.)
So start with the end in mind. As you write your book, be clear on what you are writing and who you are writing it for. Partner with a professional team that will craft the best book for you. And then dream big!
Ella Ritchie (pictured left) is the founder of Stellar Communications Houston, a business communications and book publishing team that brings clarity, quality, and integrity to nonfiction authors, business leaders, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies. Connect with her on LinkedIn or Facebook, or check out the website for more information.
Jim Barnes (pictured right) is the awards director of the Independent Publisher Book Awards, which bring increased recognition to the thousands of exemplary independent, university, and self-published titles published each year.