This Week in Self-Publishing: Applying for Awards

Money earned (total): $7,392.11

Money spent (total): $3,446.30

Money earned (this week): $350.40

Money spent (this week): $388.00

It’s the beginning of June, so I can give you a sales update:

In May, I sold 85 ebooks and earned $224.91; I also sold 47 paperbacks and earned $125.49. Add in the 11 paperbacks I sold during the pre-order period in April, and that means I’ve sold 143 books total and earned $379.77.

I won’t see any of these earnings for a while; it takes two months for payments to reach my bank account. But! Sales have been fairly consistent since the launch—I’m selling about five books a day—and even though I know that will drop off eventually, I have a few more promotional events that’ll take place over the next few months that should keep at least some of the momentum going.

And, on the subject of book promotion… this week I submitted The Biographies of Ordinary People to be considered for three awards: the Foreword Indie Award, the BookLife Prize, and the Pulitzer.


We’ll start with the Foreword Indie Award, because it was the easiest of the three; since I had already registered my book with Foreword so I could get my (five-star) Foreword Clarion Review, all I had to do was log into my account and click the button that indicated I also wanted to submit my book to the Foreword Indies.

The Foreword Indies grant awards in multiple categories, but you have to pay for each category in which you submit—so if I had wanted to give Biographies the opportunity to be considered for an award in General Fiction, Historical Fiction, and Literary Fiction, I would have had to pay three times.

I elected to pay just once, and to submit in Literary Fiction. Even though my book is technically a historical novel, it wouldn’t make sense to throw it up against, like, Civil War books or whatever. (One could make the argument that Biographies also takes place during wartime—especially the second volume—but the past 30 years have been weird, in terms of the way our country has culturally experienced “being at war.” It barely affected the Gruber family at all.)

I finished my application, paid $79, and sent Foreword both my ebook and two copies of my print book. I do not believe there is any prize money if I win. Just, you know, the honor. But the reviewers really liked my book, so I’ll see if they like it enough to award it.

The BookLife Prize does come with money; $5,000 to a single winner. It also comes with the reputation of the Publishers Weekly brand. The application was slightly more time-consuming than the Foreword application simply because they wanted a PDF version of my book, which meant I had to format one and make sure it looked professional and everything.

I paid BookLife $99 and sent over the PDF. They’re supposed to get back to me in five weeks with a Critic’s Report evaluating my novel, and—I assume—letting me know if it’s good enough to advance to the next level of the competition.

And then I submitted Biographies for a Pulitzer Prize.


I know that this might be seen as a bit of a stretch, but I’m going to quote Michael Cunningham here:

A proper respect for the mysterious aspects of fiction is encouraged by the Pulitzer’s guidelines, which are gratifyingly loose. The winning book, be it a novel or short-story collection, must have been written by an American, and should, ideally, be in some way about American life.

That’s it.

When we first spoke (we all live in different cities, and met in person only once), in June of 2011, Maureen, Susan, and I made a few fundamental agreements that had, surely, been made by other juries in the past. We would not favor writers for their obscurity (who doesn’t love an undiscovered genius?), or penalize them for their exalted reputations. We would tend to favor the grand, flawed effort over the exquisitely crafted miniature. We preferred visionary explorers to modest gardeners, and declared ourselves willing to forgive certain shortcomings or overreachings in a writer who was clearly attempting to accomplish more than can technically be done using only ink and paper.

Understanding that Cunningham was describing what happened the year the Pulitzer didn’t go to a single work of fiction, we can still look at this description as… well, it sounds like my book. American life, grand (flawed?) effort, trying to accomplish more than we generally expect books to do.

So of course I’m going to submit. Especially because it only costs $50 and they accept self-published books.

The Pulitzer submission required both a photo and a bio, and I was like “I can’t send them my out-of-date avatar where I’m wearing a gray T-shirt and mugging for the camera,” especially not if that’s going to be my official photo to be used in Pulitzer press materials, so I scrolled through my photo roll and decided to use one of the photos that I had taken on my 35th birthday because Biographies begins on Rosemary Gruber’s 35th birthday and ends on Meredith Gruber’s 35th birthday and each section has 35 chapters and it seemed like an auspicious choice.

Also the sweater I’m wearing in that photo fits with my book cover, in terms of color schemes and general aesthetic. Not like I should be even commenting on that kind of thing, because I am very sure the one thing Pulitzer Prize winners never do is write explanations of the selfies they chose to go with their application form, they probably have real photographers take their pictures and not, like, an iPhone timer.

But I did it. I submitted the application, and on Monday, I’ll send the Pulitzer Prize Office four copies of The Biographies of Ordinary People, and I believe that means they’ll go straight to the Pulitzer jury—which is to say, someone like Michael Cunningham might read my book.

Which, as I wrote in The Awl last week, is worth the $50.

(Also, the Pulitzer pays $15,000 but that is almost beside the point.)

 

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