Award Alert: The IndieReader Discovery Awards

I’ve been getting questions about a new awards program: the IndieReader Discovery Awards for self-published authors.

“What do you get when you cross a bunch of great self-published books with extraordinary publishing industry professionals?” the Discovery Awards website asks. “IndieReader’s first annual ‘Discovery Awards’ (IRDAs), where undiscovered talent meets people with the power to make a difference.” Sponsored by IndieReader (which describes itself as “a venue for discriminating book-lovers to find and purchase books published by the people who wrote them”) the IndieReader Discovery Awards are open to self-published authors of print and ebooks with a valid ISBN.

Books can be entered in one or several of 51 different subcategories (there are just two main categories, Fiction and Nonfiction), and will be accepted until February 29, 2012 (here’s the entry form). The large panel of judges includes reputable editors, literary agents, and other book people.

So far so good. But then we get to the entry fee. It’s $150 (no, that is not a typo), with another $50 due for each additional category you want to enter. This is the highest entry fee I’ve seen recently–more than double the fees of some other self-published and small-press book awards programs. The Indie Excellence Awards, for instance, charges $69. Next Generation Indie Awards charges $75, as does the IPPYs. Even the stickertastic Readers Favorite Awards keeps it under $100.

What do you get for your $150, if you win?

The top winners, from each sub-category, and the top three in each main category, will also get the following:

  • A professional IndieReader review
  • Exposure to a panel of judges who can make a difference in your book’s success
  • Inclusion in IR’s “first-look” deal with Book Ends Entertainment, an LA-based boutique literary management and production company
  • Inclusion in IndieReader Selects, the only distribution program created specifically to get indie books into indie bookstores nationwide (you can find more details on IRS here or at
  • An IndieReader “All About the Book” feature
  • A sticker pronouncing your book an “IndieReader Discovery Awards” winner

The first place winner in the Fiction and Non-Fiction categories will also get the following:

  • A review from Kirkus Reviews, a powerful resource for millions of readers, writers, librarians, media executives and the publishing industry.

There are some nice perks in there (though several are somewhat self-referential, since they involve various kinds of presence on IndieReader websites). Even if you aren’t one of the winners, there may be benefits–according to IndieReader, the judges are participating because “they’re interested in finding talented writers who might otherwise be overlooked” (though IndieReader is also quick to note that “there is no guaranteed publishing deal”). Is that worth $150, though, plus two copies of your book? Doesn’t the promise of “exposure” make the entry fee sound awfully like a reading fee? Also, since there is no cash prize, why exactly is the entry fee so high?

I get a lot of questions about contests and awards programs. Many self-published and small press writers are mesmerized by the possibility of prestige and recognition they seem to offer. But even if you avoid the obviously faux or vanity awards (such as this one, or these), you may not get much if you win. Many awards programs are primarily profit-generating operations for their sponsors, and don’t want to cut into the proceeds by spending a lot of money on prizes or ceremonies; this is why they try so hard to sell you on the prestige of winning or placing, on the excitement of being able to say “award-winning author.” But whether winning or placing will really boost your credibility–or your sales–is an open question. Do readers care that you won an award they never heard of? Do agents and publishers, if your goal is to transition to a traditional book contract?

Given how expensive many of these awards are–and remember, you have to send not just the entry fee, but one or more copies of your book for each entry category–it doesn’t strike me as the best way to spend your promotional dollar.

This is the second time I’ve blogged about IndieReader. The first time was in 2009, shortly after it started up. Its focus and goals have changed some since then–as have its prices (it now costs $499 for a review and listing) and services (it now offers self-publishing services).


  1. I don’t post much or use social media at all but I am a strong advocate for awards as a way to give validation and legitimacy to unknown authors. So let me tell you a story.
    I self published my first book, Beauty as a State of Being, at the end of 2013. I knew little about publishing, Googled and found a website listing “ten awards all self-published authors should enter,” or something like that. I entered five of the programs and won four of the five.
    I believe 2014 was the first year that Book Expo America created floor space for self published authors. It was not expensive at the time so I rented a small table which gave me access to the world of big publishing. More stories to tell there, perhaps another time.
    The night before BEA began, the Next Generation Indie Book Awards held its reception at the Harvard Club in New York. At the reception, after looking at my name tag, a woman said, “Hi, I’m the judge who deemed your book the winner in the Self Help category!” It was Gareth Esersky, a long time agent with the Carol Mann agency. We spoke, exchanged contact information, and talked about representation. Long story short, Gareth did personally give a copy of my book to Jennifer Brown, Director of Acquisitions at Sounds True, a prominent publisher in my genre. Sounds True did not pick up the book, but I was corresponding with the publisher through Gareth’s intervention, facilitated by the Next Generation Indie program.
    This is to give one illustration of an entirely legitimate and useful award, judged by real publishing folks. The book’s collection of awards allowed it to be considered by other American publishers, and it was recently translated into Chinese and published by a Taiwanese publisher for distribution in Taiwan and mainland China. None of this would have happened without the awards.
    One finalist in the Self Help category that year was Gary Keller of Keller Williams Realty. His book, The One Thing, has 4500 reviews on Amazon – to my 34! Just to say it’s not only forlorn self-publishers seeking out these awards; they are sought after by prominent authors with major publishers.

  2. I ask the same question, respectfully, especially updated for 2020 – where else can I get any notice at all with 150 bucks? Or more, for that matter? Does advertising on review blogs get you anything at all? Probably not. The amount of punishment a self-published author can take is legendary. We outdo the Russians in The Gulag Archipelago.

    We all know contests can be a scam, but that didn’t stop me from submitting to three of them. I published my novel through Mill City Press, and spent big bucks doing so, while getting little in the way of help with promotions. Yes, I’ve been published traditionally, but after ten years and three New York agents who loved it, no one could get my novel into print. There are, what, 15,000 less books being published by the Big Five today than fifteen years ago? Something like. Genre fiction has taken the biggest hit. Several of my friends in romance and mystery have been let go by their own houses, not because their books didn’t make money, but because they didn’t make enough money, according to them.

    Five years ago, I would have agreed heartily with the previous post – spend the money to join a group like RWA, the biggest writers support group in the US. I did so, actually, despite that they’re so much pricier than any similar organization. But now the nasty politics of DC has leached into everything, including RWA, which is tearing itself apart publicly, Old School vs Social Justice Warriors, cancelling the RITA awards for being too White Binary, screaming racist! in each others faces in constant Twitter Wars. It’s truly ugly, and all of us proles out here just trying to get published were the first ones thrown overboard. They don’t give a hang. RWA as an entity will not survive this, and there’s nowhere else comparable to go.

    As to the entity in the original post, I, too, have had issues with IndieReader. I ponied up for two paid reviews – Kirkus and IndieReader. With Kirkus, I just plain got lucky, and received a lovely review. There’s no denying the power of Kirkus. No one in traditional media does reviews anymore. Their creepy anonymity aside, they’re the last man standing from the old days. But my review from IndieReader, for my thoroughly-researched book on Salem in 1803, was downright startling. Apparently my reviewer had never read an historical romance – they don’t even have the category in their awards. Two love scenes were labeled “rape scenes,” one in particular absurdly, since the loving wife was seducing the stuffy husband in the dining room. She said rape is rape, even if a woman does it. My hero was a troubled survivor of five years slavery in Algiers, and his confession to his wife of a rape he witnessed that left him shattered became, to her bizarre eyes, a “gang rape that turned on the characters.” Total Lie. But the wrap-up line of the review was glowingly positive! I called to ask if I could use only that line, and she sniffed that I could if I wanted. So I used it on Amazon and NetGalley, but it still burns me up.

    In the end, I don’t think it would hurt me to be able to say, for example, “Reader’s Choice Award Winner” on my website. It’s drivel, but it works on some people. As for other perks of winning, they can keep their agents – I already have one. She’s done less than nothing for me, like the two that came before her.

  3. I agree with Jack Dawson. They gave my incredibly deeply-researched historical fiction/romance novel (which was shortlisted for a major book prize awarded by one of the Big Five traditional publishers) to some backwoods guy reviewer who appears to have no track record in reviewing books at all, let alone reviewing books in my genre. He gave me a bad review and dismissed my book as a "beach read". He simply copied and pasted snarky comments from negative reviews left by a minority of Goodreads reviewers. My book has 100+ 4 star and higher reviews on Goodreads, Amazon and Bookbub. I am so angry. IndieReader for me was a complete waste of money, and I would warn others against using them.

  4. Indiereader book reviews are the worst – They give pitiful reviews to good books – beware before you buy.

  5. Hart, I agree with you: for the most part, contests and awards are a waste of time and money. Sorry you had to find out the hard way.

  6. I just want to say that after winning the YA category for 2014, I didn't sell one book. I publicized every time my book was mentioned on the IR site, still zilch. I think I've finally come to the conclusion that most writing contests are worth only the singular momentary thrill of the 5-star review (which my 2 entries in 2 years received), and then the thrill flies away with your money. Plus it should be noted that only winners now get reviewed for the entry fee. So in order to get a review, one must pay an additional $225 to IR in addition to the initial $150 upon entry to the contest. Or you can just enter and hope you win. Otherwise, no review.

  7. I did discover that the awards were reported in the Huffington Post book section. That seems like pretty good exposure (if it still happens).
    I'm on the fence at the moment – which is why I was browsing here.
    What a lot of indie writers possibly don't know is that publishers pay to enter books in competitions, too. We are our own publishers, so we get the bills,,,,

  8. If you are a writer, and you respect your good work, avoid KIRKUS INDIE REVIEWS.

    Do not fall for the glittery promise of a Kirkus Review for your book.

    I trusted, like a fool, that a company of their repute would, surely, and for the price of $575.00 ( I was in a rush to print), that I would, at least, get a full read of the manuscript. Well, that clearly did not happen. What I got was a formulaic “schtick” on what was a bare, scant assessment of the novel–the reviewer made sure to check correct spellings of character names, their basic role, any little characteristic to throw in to "show" that the reviewer "read" the work–and just took it from there.

    The so-called "problems" with the narrative simply did not exist. There was a major aberration of the story arc as a whole and therefore, the reviewer just summed it all up the way he/she wanted to see it. After all, it doesn't matter, not really. KIRKUS will cover him/her, under the shield of anonymity and their motto: "World's Toughest Critics", regardless of what they do or say.

    When I tried to point out to them that I could prove that this reviewer didn't really read my book, they ignored my simple suggestions: that they contact the reviewer in a live call and simply ask one or two definitive questions. It wouldn't have taken a lot of trouble, really, but they clearly were not interested in being fair. They were interested in maintaining their position that they do not do refunds. Ever. Under any circumstance, however, their CEO said to me that each reviewer must read the work in its entirety. I can guarantee that this did not happen with my work. Yet– they took my money. And they refuse a refund. Clearly, this is a scam and a sham and a type of fraud cleverly wrapped up as a nice little package for the independent writer who is looking for some support. Partake at your PERIL!

    KIRKUS ended my pursuit without giving any of my considerations a try, or even offering to have another reviewer take a stab (actually, I wouldn't trust another…) but they are hanging on to my money, protecting their reviewer while I must request that they bury the thing and walk away in absolute disgrace. That's what you get when you're vulnerable, and trust snakes like KIRKUS to save the day. They're criminals. STAY AWAY.


    When I was stupid enough to enter Foreword Magazine Award, Writer's Digest Award etc, etc, I did ok but I quickly realised they had no iterest in my book or publicising the finalists and winners. Feedback was basically non-existent and all they wanted to do was sell you stickers and editorial services. Also, they cost a bloody fortune.
    So, I set up The Wishing Shelf Awards It is non-profit making, cost very little to enter and the judging is very indepth (each book is read approx 15 to 20 times). Feedback is given to everybody who enters whether they win or not and we spend the next 12 months publicising the finalists. This includes regular Press Releases to literary magazines, advertising the winners in online and traditional literary magazines and providing finalists with free quotes they can use for the back of their books.
    Also, I wanted the authors who enter to feel as if we know who they are; that we care about their books, so every email is answered personally and, in the case of the authors who did not have internet, we rang them to tell them how they did and sent their feedback by post.
    We even publish our accounts every year to show the authors exactly how the entry money was spent.
    To get an idea of how the authors enjoyed the first year, check out The Wishing Shelf Independent Book Awards Facebook page.
    So if, like me, you are sick to death of awards which only care about making money off authors, then enter your book in our awards. You will find all the details at, and I can promise you a very worthwhile and enjoyable experience. It will also be the best 28 pounds you ever spent on publicising your work.

    All the best and thanks for your support.

  10. People are quick to say "scam" (or ratbag) but there aren't reputable non-fee awards available to self-publishers. Hugo, Pulitzer, National Book Award, whatever – they're off limits to self-publishers. And something like the IPPY has a lot of entries from the gamut of independent publishers (read: not self-published).

  11. I don't do contests. However 'legitimate', if there is a fee, I'm, out.

    These things are oh so incestuous to begin with. At best writers pool a fund that becomes a kind of lottery and whoever organizes it takes a nice cut.

  12. In any professional field of endeavor, meaningful awards are given on merit alone and do not require the aspiring awardee to pay a fee at all. I'm sorry, but a book that boasts about being given an "award" that required an entry fee, especially one that gets into three digits, does not leave me with a positive impression.

  13. Anonymous at 8:46 and 9:00 am here– just wanted to say that anonymous at 12:43 p.m. is not me. Oy.

    That's the trouble with having a common name.

  14. Well, I'd put that $150 towards a quick-print run of book brochures to mail out. Yes, even in this age of email, direct mail still works. Of course, emails also work–and are free if you sent up an automated mailing using your database. However, some potential readers do not want publishers to email them (or even, have no email addresses), but will accept postal mail. And, bookstores are more impressed by printed brochures than by email. Paying for a mailing list MAY be a good idea, as long as it is very well targeted to your book and very current. Otherwise, I recommend assembling your own.

    Sending review copies to well-targeted publications is also a good idea. Sending press releases is also excellent, and a lot cheaper than a massive review copy mailing. Most publications actually prefer to receive press releases electronically, so again, this is free for you, as long as you can write your own press release.

    Social networking involves a lot of labor, which needs to be carefully alotted and done in the right venues. But, it does not involve paying money up front, unless you hire someone to do it.

    I don't even count setting up web pages–(my-husband-the-programmer does it free).

    See John Kremer's book 1001 Ways to Market Your Book for many, many good and inexpensive ideas.

  15. Oh, and ps, to the IRDA rep above: Yes, I think I have a better way for writers to get their work in front of people who can help them get a publishing deal.

    Submit it to agents or editors.

  16. DA, I also assumed it was Bookends Literary Agency.

    A thought about awards. My books are published by a big 6 publisher. I've won awards. And I've watched my amazon sales after these awards, and nothing happens.

    On the other hand, if one of my books gets reviewed in the national media, my amazon sales shoot right up.

    So I'd say if you want to improve the sales of your self-published book, go after reviews, not awards.

    And as for entering a high-fee contest with the possibility of winning a review– oy! There are more efficient ways to go after reviews. You can send out a lot of copies of your book for $150.

  17. Maybe the National Book Award may mean something, but I made up The Walnut Award for one of my weird books. The new award is given to a writer who has managed to complete a novel after a frontal lobotomy. The writer's brain must be no larger than a walnut. Makes about as much sense as the rest of these awards and it didn't cost me anything.

  18. hmmm…I wrote a long response a minute ago which seems to have disappeared, so pls disregard if it pops up again.

    First, thx Victoria for helping to clarify the Awards. Second (and this is kind of important), IR no longer charges for anything but ads (I think you may be referring to IR Selects, a sep service and website).

    In fact all IR editorial–including reviews–are now posted at IR's discretion (and have been for almost a year).

    Onto the Awards questions…as far as why our fees are higher than other awards to enter…I can't speak for the other organizers, but there is a lot of work involved with securing and communicating with our panel of judges and handling PR (see our recent write-up in GalleyCat). Additionally, we pay our staff to record, sort, send out books (some are still paper) and generally coordinate what is shaping up to be a major undertaking.

    Re: the assertion that the money could be better spent. As a long-time publicist (and both an indie and traditionally pubbed author), I respectfully disagree. Sure, you can send out review copies and make book trailers (not for $150 tho), but if an author's end goal is to attract more readers–or even a publishing contract–they first need to get their work in front of people who can help them, and that's what the IRDAs are all about.

    If someone thinks they have a better way, I urge them to try it. But I would also urge those who doubt what we're trying to do to take a look at the IR site. Our goal for almost three years has been to promote–and generate respect for–indie authors and their books. In other words, we're just trying to help.

    Please let me know if you have further questions. I'd be happy to answer them.


  19. Leslie, re: "the claim that the winners will get a review in Kirkus."

    This isn't a claim, Leslie. That's what the winners receive. As far as which part of Kirkus will run the review, it's "Kirkus Indie" as the books are, in fact, indie books. So in essence, that's a $575 value right there.

  20. Henry Baum said: "I agree that the fee is high for the IR award, but maybe it helps attracts writers who are more confident in their work"

    I would be very interested in finding out if there's actually a correlation between the quality of a work and the author's confidence in it. If there is, it may be an inverse correlation because of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

  21. Victoria, I'm curious about the claim that the winners will get a review in Kirkus. I would like to know which part of Kirkus will run the review. The real Kirkus, or the "Kirkus Indie" that charges $425 per review, $575 for express service. I suppose there's some value if that service is part of your award . . . except that it's the Kirkus Indie branch and the author pays for the reviews, therefore making the review suspect.

  22. Lol, that was meant to read 'wherever you go in life, there's never a shortage…'

    I really shouldn't type when I'm tired 🙂

  23. Sadly, wherever there's never a shortage of ratbags waiting to scam money from someone with a dream 🙁

  24. I got involved with IndieReader when they first came online. I was just putting out my first self-published book, Magician of Oz and I knew very little about the industry. Since I was (still am) a part-time teacher with little to no disposable income, I didn't pay for any services and took advantage of their free offers, which were limited to a very brief listing (which no longer exists) and a request for a short description of my self-publishing experience (which also no longer appears on their website). Had I paid for services, would I have gotten valuer for my investment? Probably not… I've never been impressed with them and I've done far better on my own, marketing, blogging and promoting my work in general. My niche is so limited that no amount of paid services or some silly contest will do any better than I do for myself.
    I write for the joy of it, which is good since I ain't getting filthy stinkin' rich at it. The funny part is that I'm already filthy and I stink quite a bit. Now if I could just get rich!!!!
    Oh well, on to the next novel!!!

  25. @VS I can confirm I'm not making any $.

    You're right about web hosting, but I'd consider that a necessity. And all the other things are a crap shoot whether or not they'll work. Postcards and bookmarks and such are good, but not really buzz creating. I agree that the fee is high for the IR award, but maybe it helps attracts writers who are more confident in their work, and so attracts more prominent judges? Overall, I do think $150 is high for an award, if I'm being honest.

    I've blown $99 on a Foreword award where I didn't even get an honorable mention, and I moved on. Marketing is all about trying things and seeing what works – different things work for different people. So yeah, it is like the lottery, but so is releasing a book and hoping it'll take hold.

  26. These awards are a waste of money. If a self-published author wants to have an impact that makes people take notice of their work they have to focus on two areas:

    1. Sales. Selling 10,000 copies of a title has more of an impact on everyone than an award no one has heard of. 10,000 sales says there's an audience to trade publishers and a platform they can build around an author.

    2. building an audience. It goes hand in hand with sales, but a self-published author's main goal is building a reputation with readers and establishing the word-of-mouth that will get people talking about their book and buying it.

    I'd rather spend $150 on a book trailer, club flyers (larger and glossier than a business card and would feature the book cover on it,) or just put the money away for a rainy day. Book promotion isn't that expensive and an entry fee for an award no one has heard of isn't going to give a casual reader incentive to try a self-published authors titles.

  27. This is no different than buying a $150 lottery ticket.

    Except that with lottery tickets if you win you get something more valuable than what you paid to enter.

    To answer Henry Baum: I'd suggest aspiring authors put that $150 into joining an organization like RWA where it is possible to meet and learn from real authors published in all the various modalities who have sold a lot of books online and in stores and are willing to share what they've learned about what works.

  28. Henry Baum said,

    I'm curious what better way you think there is to spend $150.

    Sending out review copies, if it's a print book or the reviewer doesn't review ebooks. Traveling to signings. Paying for web hosting and web design. Paying your tech-savvy friend to make you a book trailer. I'm sure there's much variance of opinion and experience here–but the point is that there's any number of concrete things you can pay for that have a tangible result, as opposed to spending money for what, for most entrants, is the chimera of winning an award.

    I agree that ads are a waste of money.

    What I'd really like to know is why the IndieReader entry fee is so much higher than that of other, similar awards'. One reason might be that the judges get an honorarium–can you confirm whether or not that's the case?

  29. I'm curious what better way you think there is to spend $150. Ads – where? Not being facetious, I'm genuinely curious.

    For me, as a self-publisher, awards have been the best way to spend money. But then I've won a couple, and actually made $1500 on one, so I'd feel differently if I had nothing to show for it.

    But Google ads, web ads, and the like are fleeting and don't help a lot. Stamping "Winner of" is pretty helpful to get people to take a book seriously. *Someone* liked it – it's somewhat like having a publisher. Reviews are free, for the most part, and maybe just as helpful, but having Winner of has helped the book get reviews some places.

    Disclaimer – I'm actually affiliated with this contest, but I'd also like to hear some ideas about where to put $ with a marketing budget under $500

  30. I kind of wonder if anyone outside the writing world even KNOWS most of these awards. I mean, if you ask someone who's familiar with publishing about various legit contests and such, they'll know what you're talking about. But your average reader? I don't think they care. I know I don't, just like I don't care if your aunt Linda or another author loved your book. Doesn't mean I will.

    Also, love how anon didn't even have the balls to show their name with their tasteless comment 😀 Stay classy anon.

  31. That Book Ends Entertainment isn't BookEnds, right? The one run by Jessica Faust and Kim Lionetti? It's a similarly named but completely unaffiliated agency?

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