What You Can Win by Losing: The 2012 IPPY (Independent Publisher) Awards Have Been Announced! Didn't Win? Some Words to Cheer You Up

4 May

The Gold Medal in the IPPY Awards--So near, but so far

On May 2, 2012, awards for the last few categories of the 2012 IPPY (Independent Publisher) Awards were announced. Did your book receive an award?

Mine didn’t, either. I’ve been entering the IPPYs for years. This was the first time  I didn’t win something. Kinda shocking.

It hurts to have your masterpiece spurned, but doesn’t hurt half as much as getting a one star review. That’s like a crossbow bolt to the heart, except you don’t get to die. You get to read those words savaging your beloved baby forever, or as long as your book’s Amazon page lasts. So losing in the IPPYs isn’t that bad.

You feel better already, don’t you?

This is an article about dealing with not winning a book contest. Usually I write about how to win book contests. One of the things I say in those articles is that you can do everything I say to do to win and still lose. I just demonstrated that.

Not winning in the 2012 IPPY (Independent Press) Awards brought to mind an actual event that happened to me in the olden days, before my body started disintegrating. I used to show horses.  My family was into horses. That means: We’d blow the kids’ college tuition fund if a good show prospect came up. We were over-the-top, raving horse maniacs, like everyone else we knew. We bred, raised, trained and showed our horses, which were Peruvian Paso horses. That’s right, they originated in Peru. What follows is an uplifting to you (I hope), though extremely embarrassing to me, tale illustrating what can be learned through losing.

Hang in there: This is more of a short (or medium length) story, than a blog post. Actually, it’s a free Kindle short.

Azteca de Oro BSN & I at the Monterey show. This is NOT me riding Vistoso. I couldn't find a picture of the Big V and me. I'm riding Vistoso's full brother, Azteca, at the Monterey Fairgrounds. Close enough.

OK. I was riding one of our top horses, Vistoso, at the Mission Trails Classic Championship Peruvian Paso Horse Show in Monterey, CA.  The Monterey show was very large and prestigious. All the top ranches attended the event; winning was a real coup.

Vistoso and I were in some class, most likely Performance Geldings, since he was a performance gelding. In performance classes, the horses don’t just zoom around the arena looking beautiful. They have to do something: stop and back up, go fast, go slow, turn in circles, reverse, and serpentine through poles set so close that the animals looked like snakes with manes and tails.

Vistoso and I were having the ride of a lifetime. We were on. We were in perfect harmony: a gorgeous young horse and an aging-but-still-pretty-together woman. Vistoso was a tall, bright chestnut gelding. He was big; he was bold. He was magnificent. (Which is what Vistoso means: Beautiful, delightful, showy, spectacular. Peruvian Paso horses are required to have Spanish names, in homage to their Peruvian roots.)

We moved around the carefully groomed arena. The stadium surrounding us was filled with everyone who wasn’t riding a horse or getting ready to. Vistoso didn’t take a false step the whole class. I could hear the four-beat sound of his gait, the paso llano, a slow gait particular to his breed. We were in perfect balance, horse and rider.

Other horses were in the arena, but I knew we had it nailed. We’d win the class, go on to the championship competition, and win that. From there, Vistoso would become the new Champion of Champions.

TWIGGY & LILY at Monterey–- This is my daughter Lily riding out of the arena on Twiggy, probably the hottest horse we've ever owned. Notice how the horse seems to be compressed horizontally, smashed from front to back. That's because she wants to leave the ring. If Lily let go of the reins, that horse would launch faster than something from Vandenburg Air Force Base.

The judge pointed to a number of horses moving along the rail, including Vistoso and me, and indicated that we should move to the center of the arena, next to the flapping canvas pavilion where the ring steward and officials sat with a pile of gaudy trophies. I eyed the trophies, panting slightly. We were in “the good pile.”

The judge then motioned to the horses still moving along the rail, indicating that they should leave the arena through the newly opened gates. They were “the bad pile.”

If you’re in the good pile, you’re that much closer to winning. Except that horses do not care about winning. They are herd animals: they care about being with their their buddies, who were leaving the arena. Horses in the good pile can become very anxious at this point.

The judge sent us to the far end of the arena and the announcer began  calling out winners, working from the lowest place to the highest. A couple of honorable mentions. Fifth place. Fourth . . . When their numbers were announced, riders piloted their horses to the flapping pavilion and picked up their ribbons. They then left the arena, the horses practically bolting as they neared the open gates.

The higher your placement, the worse it gets. I was circling Vistoso at close to light speed as he became increasingly distressed watching his fellow equines escape. Finally, the Big V and I were the only horse/rider pair in the arena, except for this other woman on a little liver chestnut. (Yes, he was the color of liver.) I knew her. She was a really nice lady. Little horse. No sweat. The class was mine. I kept circling Vistoso, hoping that my triumph wouldn’t be overshadowed by him bucking me off. Then the announcer called the second place number.

It was MY number! I came in second.  That was impossible. I had won the class. No one could have had a ride as good as ours. I rode out of the arena with my lousy red ribbon. I was pissed off, and I stayed that way the rest of the day, and into the night.

Evening fell, as it inevitably does. The big dinner dance was on. The Monterey fairgrounds have a really cool party set-up. Soft lights twinkled and the band struck up. A gorgeous buffet was laid out. Champagne flowed and folks in “Western/Peruvian formal” attire chatted it up or took to the dance floor.

I made my way through the crowd, turned a corner, and ran smack into the show’s  judge. My eyes narrowed and my back went up.

The judge recognized me and put out her hand, grinning broadly. “Boy, did you ride that horse this afternoon!” Her praise was as heartfelt as any I’ve heard.

She didn’t fool me. That class was MINE. “Well, if you liked us so much, why didn’t you give us the blue ribbon?” I said. You see, I’m a liberated woman. I’ve also taken nine million assertiveness trainings. I was not about to let someone ***** me over.

The judge rocked back, and then replied without missing a beat. “Well, this is a very good show. A second prize in this show is equivalent to a championship somewhere else.”

I walked away, feeling slightly better and proud that I’d spoken up for myself. I was no wimp.

* * *

Fast forward to the end of the show season, late Fall. I’m at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center in Griffith Park, Los Angeles, CA. The National Championship Show for the Peruvian Paso breed is  in full swing. This is the big, BIG time. Griffith Park is a real equestrian center. Massive cement grandstands circle an over-sized ring, creating a bowl which is spanned by a very high and equally massive ceiling.

The Nationals are like this: All the horses you’ve seen  in the magazines are there with their famous trainers, equally famous ranch owners, and enough stable help to run a small resort. The barns where the horses are kept when not performing sport flags and banners and swags up and down the aisles. Each ranch has its signature colors. Videos advertising the ranches’ charms and horses for sale play at the end of each stall row. Multicolor ribbons flutter, too––whatever each ranch has won at the show is displayed front and center.  Believe it or not, some ranches deck out their turf with potted palms and carpeting. It’s a spectacle that looks like it came out of George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, but with more horses.

My nervous system goes into overload and then flames out with the tension of the Nationals. I’d already blown the classes I was riding in. “The bad pile” was probably above my head in that company.  I had plenty of free time, so I sat in the stands, watching the show.

I jumped out of my seat when the  woman who stole that class from me in Monterey rode through the gates. I leaned forward, teeth bared, a growl turning over in my throat. She was a petite, slender woman with rich dark hair. Her spine was erect, perfectly balanced as she sat the horse. Her stirrups were long, permitting her legs to extend downward gracefully. If you had dropped a line from the point of her knee, it would touch the tip of her toes. She held her hands low, almost touching the front of the saddle. Her equitation was plu-perfect.

Her horse, the grubby little thing I’d dismissed, wasn’t so grubby when I looked at him carefully. Liver chestnut is actually a rich medium brown, very correct and conservative. The horse was small and fine, elegant, like its rider. They were a brilliant match of type and style. Her poncho, saddle, bridle, everything, was exactly what the rule book specified. The animal moved along, relaxed, but alert, and precisely gaited.

Riding is one sport where the better you are, the less you do. You can see dressage riders in the Olympics whose horses are doing unbelievable things, but you can’t see the rider doing anything. The pair before me were like that. Exquisite. You know, there’s good riding, and then excellent riding. This was riding touched by angels.

I sat there, my mouth falling open. My hands went cold. I didn’t win that class in Monterey because I wasn’t good enough. I couldn’t see my competition because I was busy riding my own horse. Seeing her in that arena told me that she and that little gelding were world class. (In fact, they would win the National Champion of Champions Performance Gelding title later in the show.)

I had a sinking feeling when I realized what I’d done. I felt like my center of gravity was ten feet below the stadium and dropping. I remembered what I had said to that judge. My cheeks flamed. Embarrassment so powerful that you could almost see it washed over me. I had been so rude to that nice woman. I am still embarrassed about what I said, many years later.

I’ll never forget it.

* * *

So there it is: I didn’t win because I didn’t deserve to. I didn’t know I wasn’t the best because I was busy riding my own horse and couldn’t see the others.

* * *

Am I saying that your book didn’t win in the IPPYs because it wasn’t good enough? Well, . . .

Let’s take a look at that. When you enter your book in a contest, it’s like entering the arena on Vistoso that day in Monterey. You’re busy with your own entrant and can’t see the competition. You don’t know how good the other entrants’ books were. And you’ll never know. Remember me mouthing off to that judge when you feel like screaming over your placement. Don’t embarrass yourself.

Let’s look at book contests. You’ve zeroed out at the IPPYs this year. What should you do? Here are some options:

1. Walk away from it and never enter a book contest again. This is a pretty good option. Book contests are expensive. Aside from the cost of editing, proofreading, having my book designed and printed, along with the two years of my life I spent writing my book, Lady Grace, I forked out maybe $150 for the single category I entered. That includes the entry fee, postage, and materials for the press kit, which I included even though it wasn’t required. If I’d entered more categories or books, the cost would have multiplied.

Lady Grace, my 2012 entry into the book contests. Finished moments before entries close,will the Lady have what it takes?

As an indie author, do you need awards from book contests to sell your book? Let’s look at some of the most successful authors––indie or traditional––of our time. Take John Locke, the first indie published author to sell one million ebooks. John’s probably about to hit the two million mark by now. What did that get him? A lot of money and a contract with Simon & Schuster, one that he designed that meets his needs. (No yanking the indie author around.) And then we’ve got Amanda Hocking, who parlayed her young adult series into millions of book sales and dollars, and a contract with St. Martin’s Press. Darcie Chan, who published her book as an eBook after being rejected my the major publishers. She’s probably getting close to a million eBook sales by now and is a NYT Bestselling author, not to mention having a lot more loose change. What list of successful indies could leave out JA Konrath, the father of the “you can do better publishing it yourself” movement. Or M.J. Rose, probably the first author to go the self-pub route.

Did any of these people use awards from book contests for independent presses as their springboards to success? No. Did any of them enter such contests? Not that I know of.

(I don’t think they do blog tours, either.)

From these success stories, it looks like not entering book contests may increase your chances of success. Figuring out how to effectively sell your book is way to go.

2. Say you want to win prizes and enter more contests. What then? I’m like that. A compulsive competitor. I like to say, “Hi, I’m Sandy Nathan, award-winning author. I’ve won . . .” I like stickers and medals and certificates. I like to increase the number of wins I’ve got and post the new totals all over. Look at my website, for Pete’s sake. If that isn’t ever conspicuous flashing of glitz I don’t know what is.

My husband says, “Isn’t twenty-one awards enough?” I say, “No! A million wouldn’t be enough!”

You’re like me, you didn’t win the IPPYs this year, but you want to try again. Read the article below and follow it. This is my famous “What I do to win book contests” article. Do all that and enter your new book next year.

Or––take a look at your book and what you’re writing now. The IPPYs are a huge, prestigious contest, like the National Championships I described above. Are you up to that competition? If you don’t think you you can make it in the rarefied atmosphere of the IPPYs, pick a different contest. My article on how to win book contests has links to some very nice smaller contests. Maybe one is just perfect for your book.

3. If my recitation of what you actually get out of book contests sticks in your craw, pick a contest with really good prizes. Good prizes are a reason to compete even if you’re horrified by what I’ve said above.  I’m sharing a secret now. The 2012 National Indie Excellence Contest has killer prizes. Check ’em out on their web site. They have regular winner and finalist prizes for the various categories, but the overall winners get stuff like thousands of dollars of services from top publicists. That’s worth competing for. It’s too late to enter this year, but 2013 is coming fast.

The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy

The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy––Winner of the 2011 Gold Medal for Visionary Fiction in the IPPY Awards

4. What does winning really mean? In 2011, I was thrilled and delighted when my book The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy won the Gold Medal in Visionary Fiction at the IPPYs. I’d won in previous IPPYs, but never a Gold. I feel tremendous gratitude to the people putting on the contest for acknowledging my book as they did.

The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy is Book I of Tales from Earth’s End. The series is a fantasy/sci-fi/visionary fiction tale about people pushed to the literal ends of the earth. In The Angel, nuclear holocaust looms as the characters work to mend their past “business” and figure out how to survive the destruction of the planet. The Angel is a good book. It’s an important book treating the possibility of nuclear weapons destroying our world, as well as what can come from an economic disaster which is not successfully resolved. It’s beautifully produced and has a killer cover. I like this book very much.

Lady Grace is the second book in the Tales from Earth’s End series and was my entry in the 2012 IPPY Awards. Lady Grace sets out what happens to a small group of survivors of the nuclear war as they begin to create a new world. Every book professional who has touched Lady Grace has told me that it’s not just better than The Angel, it’s way better. “Your pacing, the plotting, the characters––all are terrific. This is the best writing you’ve done.” That was my editor. Others have said the same sort of thing: I’ve hit my stride with Lady Grace. I knew it, too.

A woman in my book club who told me she’d hated everything I’ve written called me babbling in rapture after reading Lady Grace. “It’s fantastic, Sandy. It’s the best book I’ve ever read. How did you do that? Where did you come up with all that?” And more, she went on and on. I loved it.

Lady Grace, my 2012 entry into the book contests. Finished moments before entries closed, Lady Grace was left in the paddock area at the end of the race.

OK. The Angel won the Visionary Fiction category in 2011, for which I will be eternally grateful. Lady Grace didn’t win anything in 2012, but it’s a better book in every way. Except maybe its cover. The version I submitted was straight off the presses; it might have been a proof. The print copies of the book arrived so close to the contest’s deadline that we didn’t have time to make adjustments in the cover or anything else before shipping them off to the IPPYs.

The final issue I’m raising is about judging. I’m not doing the snotty thing that I did to that poor judge in Monterey. I realize that the emerging National Champion of Champions might have been entered in the Visionary Fiction category in 2012. I don’t know what the competition was, or what the competition was in 2011 when The Angel won the Gold.

It’s just really weird to me that a lesser book should win the competition and a superior one not even place. Did the judges read it? Maybe totally different judges were working in 2012, and they had different preferences. You see that showing horses all the time. Some judges hate a particular type, while others love it. Maybe the fact that the cover wasn’t totally jelled knocked it out. That’s possible. We’ve since modified the cover, cleaning up the colors and changing the tag line.

A lot of things could have happened, and some of them must have.

What does the judging mean? What do you win when you win? Are the winners really the best books? What does an award mean?

The more I think on these things, the more I tend to agree with my husband. Maybe twenty-one awards is enough. (Twenty-two now. Lady Grace was a finalist in Visionary Fiction at the 2012 Indie Excellence Awards.)

So, campers, we’ve finished our romp through Contestland. I don’t know if I made you feel any better after your non-award, but maybe I made  you more thoughtful.

I look forward to hearing from others about their contest experiences. Would you do it again? What did it do for book sales? Your career?

Let me know, folks.

Sandy Nathan, Award-winning Author

Sandy Nathan is the winner of twenty-one national awards for her writing. She’s won in categories from memoir, to visionary fiction, to children’s nonfiction. And more.

Sandy’s  books are: (Click link to the left for more information on each book. All links below go to Kindle sale pages.)
Sam & Emily: A Love Story from the Underground (paperback. Kindle coming)
Lady Grace: A Thrilling Adventure Wrapped in the Embrace of Epic Love (paperback. Kindle coming)
The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy
Numenon: A Tale of Mysticism & Money

Tecolote: The Little Horse That Could

Stepping Off the Edge: Learning & Living Spiritual Practice


10 Responses to “What You Can Win by Losing: The 2012 IPPY (Independent Publisher) Awards Have Been Announced! Didn't Win? Some Words to Cheer You Up”

  1. Kate McGuinness May 4, 2012 at 7:55 pm #

    I feel like I won by virtue of reading this post. No, that’s not flattery. You are a born story teller. I love how you spin out a tale.

    But, more than that, I feel that I “won” because I gained more insight into the process, into the competitive spirit that I share with you (I lost, too — boo, hoo) and into the evil of assuming facts not in evidence. We might assume the judges were drugged, our books were damaged in the mail, or any of a dozen different scenarios. We don’t know and will never know.

    The most important take-away for me in all of this is the reminder of the the value of acceptance. We are truly in our power when we can accept losing with equanimity. Congratulations, you’ve done it!

  2. admin May 4, 2012 at 8:02 pm #

    Thank you for your kind words,Kate. Writing this post was therapy for me, too. Because I am COMPETITIVE. It’s backed off a little.

    I love your “the judges were drugged, books lost in the mail.” That’s great. We’ll never know.

    Thanks for letting me know you liked the post!

  3. Patricia O'Donnell-Gibson May 6, 2012 at 11:37 am #

    You ARE a wonderful story teller. In fact, I want to look up your memoir. My book was in the memoir/autobiography category. Here is what I have been wondering. It seemed that many of the books that won were published by small presses or university presses. My book was published by my publishing company – a VERY small press – and a company which has only one book in it. Perhaps I was out of my league here. Yet I have had good responses to my book on Amazon and B & N. I guess I will think of that when I look back to “contests” – and I must admit, I entered lots of contests as you indicated you did!

    • admin May 6, 2012 at 12:12 pm #

      Hi, Patricia! Stepping Off the Edge is the kind of story telling I do in the blog post, but more like extended essays around a theme. Like my eBay addiction and how I beat it. And horse stories, too.

      With the IPPYs and other contests, it’s hard to second guess what happens with the judging. My books are published by a very small press, too. When I started out with Stepping the first year, I won all sorts of stuff. It was a runner up in the Benjamin Franklin Awards (possibly more prestigious than the IPPYs), got a Bronze in the IPPYs, and a bunch more awards from other contests. Beginner’s luck? I have no clue, but my publisher’s one-book status didn’t seem to hurt anything. I am compulsive about every aspect of my books’ quality. And Stepping is a good read and a pretty book. (It’s only 99 cents as a Kindle!)

      Something else seems to be happening now. For one thing, I don’t know how many hundreds of thousands (or millions) of indie produced books have been released since my debut, which was in 2007. It’s a different world, way more competitive. And I find it much harder to make sales with all the books out there. I had lunch yesterday with one of the really big pros in the book field. She said that several of her clients entered the IPPYs and only one got a Bronze or something like that. None won a category. Her clients usually clean up. She thought maybe the IPPYs were getting too big or too tough. One of my other friends emailed with someone in the Jenkins Group before the contest. He told her something like a Pulitzer (or other very big) Prize-winner had a book entered in Literary Fiction. That’s hard to compete with.

      I’d relax and see how the other contests you’ve entered work out. The only one that I know is still open is the Best Books of 2012 (USA Book News) contest. Please keep in touch and let me know how you’re doing. Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Dr. Sherry L. Meinberg May 8, 2012 at 11:30 am #

    “NO!” I shout to you with much force, and laughter, “21 awards is not enough!” (I’m at 57 awards to date, so I speak from experience.) I just got off the phone with a friend, who listened sympathetically, as I complained about winning four more awards today (from two different contests), but they were all Honorable Mentions. How could that be?! I was taken aback. Should I even count them? I was unsure as to how to proceed. Then I realized that I hadn’t even placed in the 2012 IPPY Awards. Egads! Certainly, I had realized from the get-go that IMPERFECT WEDDINGS ARE BEST would be a hard sell for judges, since it would not be considered a “serious” nonfiction subject, and it was both humorous and scandalous, to boot. It clearly shows a nontraditional bent (as demonstrated by the title, alone), emphasizing attitude over perfection. But I perservered. It is my observation that most people would rather be entertained than informed, so I tried to do both, with the text, tips, and 300 examples. Anyway, I determined to lick my wounds by rereading my fan mail, until I came across your article. What a hoot! Thanks for sharing your experiences. Your offering is thoroughly appreciated (and much needed). : )

    • admin May 8, 2012 at 12:21 pm #

      Hi, Sherry, Glad to be of help. Losing smarts, doesn’t it? I hate it. But I talked myself our of my lust for book awards with that article. (Let’s face it, those medals, stickers and certificates are about as useful as horses show ribbons.) When I wrote the bit about not being able to tie a single book sale to the awards, and then listed John Locke and all those mega sellers that I know never entered a book contest (or did a blog tour), it sunk in. You can buy a nice ad on one of the huge eBook sites with what those contests cost.

      Honorable Mentions count, I’m told by book industry pundits. The same way Academy Award nominees get to call themselves “Nominees” the rest of there lives. You get to say, whatever the award was, followed by Nominee.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. It’s wonderful to meet someone with more awards than me. Your book sounds like great fun. Even the thought of putting on a perfect wedding gives me heartburn. Imperfect IS best.

      I write on all sorts of stuff, so come by again. I’m trying to figure out how people can sign up for this blog. It seems to have flummoxed my web guy.


  5. Anne R. Allen May 8, 2012 at 1:28 pm #

    Hey, I didn’t win either. Cause I didn’t enter. Just entering contests takes courage. Wonderful, inspirational story!

  6. admin May 8, 2012 at 1:56 pm #

    Hi Anne! You were the smart one! I talked myself out of entering any more contests by writing this article. A woman who’s won 57 awards commented up above. I admire her pluck, and her stamina. Glad you liked the story. People here are telling me, “Write your horse book.” I have a whole file of stories like that. Good hearing from you!

  7. Jayne Martin May 14, 2012 at 2:12 pm #

    I can relate to your horse show story, having competed in hunter/jumpers for years. As for book contests, none yet, but I did win third place in the Writer’s Digest Screenplay division a few years back and now I’m waiting to hear on a flash fiction contest I entered. That kind of judging is so subjective. You really can’t take it personally. The art of riding or writing. I, too, live in the SY Valley and am friends with Mary Ann Evans.

    • admin May 14, 2012 at 4:29 pm #

      Hi Jayne! Good to hear from you. I think the greatest things to be won with horses or book contests are the life-lessons that come with them. My article on winning book contests says how to do it about as completely as can me done. Of course, as my current story shows, even the best preparation doesn’t always work. I hope we cross paths. It would be great to know another rider/writer.