BookLife Prize in Fiction

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

I've been getting some questions about the BookLife Prize in Fiction, a new award for unpublished and self-published novels. Prizes include a "brief critical assessment" from Publishers Weekly reviewers for all entrants (BookLife is owned by PW), a book blurb from "a bestselling or award-winning author" for semi-finalists, and a grand prize of $5,000 for a single winner.

BookLife claims to "[tap] the experience, integrity, and authority of Publishers Weekly to help indie authors achieve their goals." It offers a free submission portal for writers who want to submit self-published books for review, along with "editorial content—success stories, interviews, author profiles, how-to pieces, news, and features". There's also a Service Directory, whose DIY entries--some of which are paid ads--are subject to restrictions via BookLife's Terms & Conditions, but otherwise appear to be unvetted. For instance, there are listings for Strategic Book Publishing & Rights Agency (on Writer Beware's Thumbs Down List and long the subject of an Alert on Writer Beware) as well as SBPRA's "marketing" subsidiary, Author Marketing Ideas. As "endorsed" listings, they receive preferential placement. Problem is, in both cases, the "endorsements" are from SBPRA employees.

I've been skeptical of BookLife since its inception, in part because of the failings of the Service Directory, in part because much of its content is generic info widely available on the web, or else reprints from industry bloggers or PW itself. Also, although BookLife is free, the site promotes PW Select, which charges $149 for a listing in PW and "featured" presence on BookLife.

With its multiple judging rounds and the participation of PW reviewers and editors, BookLife's Prize in Fiction is reminiscent of Amazon's (now-discontinued) Breakthrough Novel Award, which was also done in partnership with PW--though the crowdsourcing element is missing (judging in the ABNA was partly based on votes from the public), and there's no publication offer waiting for the winners.

There's another difference as well. Entering the Breakthrough Novel Award was free. Entering BookLife's Prize in Fiction requires a whopping non-refundable entry fee of $99.

A big entry fee like this, as many of you know, is one of the signs of an awards profiteer--an organization that runs writing awards and contests not to honor writers but to make a buck (I've written a lot about such organizations on this blog). So I contacted BookLife to ask why the fee was so high. I quickly heard back from BookLife President Carl Pritzkat, who confirmed what I suspected: part of the fee goes to cover honorariums for the PW reviewers who'll be providing the critiques. But he also told me that "in terms of the entry fee we were modeling it after prizes like Forward Magazine's INDIES ($99 with an early-bird rate of $79), IndieReader's Discovery Awards ($150 for the first category of entry) and IBPA's Benjamin Franklin Awards ($95 per category for members; $225 for non-members)."

I don't suspect BookLife of being an awards profiteer. Apart from the huge entry fee, other warning signs aren't present. But honorariums or no honorariums, $99 is a lot of money, and in light of the large number of cynical awards schemes that seek to profit from aspiring and self-published writers' hunger for recognition and exposure, I have to wonder why BookLife would choose to model itself after IndieReader and its ilk.

The grand prize is a nice chunk of change, and given how much writers have to struggle to obtain worthwhile feedback, author blurbs and reviewer critiques are certainly tempting. But I'd suggest that writers who are considering  this contest do some serious thinking about whether it's worth handing over nearly $100 for a few sentences of feedback and the slim possibility of winning $5,000.

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