Raising the Bar for Independent Publishers in Canada

Whistler Writers Festival logo with awards badge
Whistler Writers Festival logo with awards badge

Anyone can self-publish a book nowadays. But self-publishing is a huge undertaking, and it’s not easy to do it well. Many authors know they need a “great” editor or a “professional” cover design if they want their book to stand out. But it can be too tempting to take shortcuts and save money with a DIY approach. The result is an over-saturation of books in the marketplace and difficulty distinguishing the best from the boring. Book awards in Canada and the US attempt to provide some distinction.

IBPA Independent magazine
The June 2017 issue of ibpa independent magazine matched my book title!

Book Awards in the United States

The United States has so many awards for independent publishers that I can’t help wondering if it’s just a money-making racket. Several require the submission of multiple books that are later recycled, donated to libraries, or possibly even show up as those “slightly used” copies on Amazon.

Some of the awards offer more than just a chance to lower the stack of books in your closet. The IBPA’s Benjamin Franklin awards provide every submission with important critical written feedback to help authors improve their product and their craft. The IBPA is committed to raising the bar in independent publishing. Membership includes a free monthly magazine loaded with timely industry content, plus discounts on webinar workshops, co-op advertising, and an annual Publishing University. Mark and I have attended PubU twice, increased our publishing knowledge immensely, and are grateful to the IBPA for their organization and dedication.

Book Awards in Canada

Back in Canada, we were wondering how we could raise the bar for independents right here at home. Enter the Whistler Independent Book Awards.

Whistler Writers Festival with Independent Book awards in Canada
Whistler Independent Book Awards

This award offers the only juried Canadian awards for self-published authors. In 2017, books were put through three levels of evaluation. Vivalogue Publishing created a long list. Canadian Authors – Metro Vancouver reduced the long list to a short list of three finalists. And two well-known authors worked together to select a winner in each award category. Mark entered Goodnight Sunshine in the inaugural award in 2016, and we were both thrilled when it made the long list (top 10) for best fiction novel. Not bad for a couple of rookies producing our first book.

Book Evaluation

I entered Shine Bright: Live A Supernova Life in the non-fiction category in 2017. While I didn’t make the cut, the feedback I received was thorough and invaluable. The highlights are abbreviated below.

Using a 1-5 rating, I scored highest in:

  • Theme (5) I liked the Supernova theme and thought the author did an excellent job of organizing a series of essays around it.
  • Writing (4) The author does a good job of varying sentence structure and writes very well.
  • Language (4) The author’s voice is fresh and clear. The language was occasionally too colloquial (“hubby”) or a bit lazy (“trusting the universe to provide”).
  • Production (4) I liked both the cover and the interior, but I think the title does this book a major dis-service. The title is much more prescriptive than the content and restricts the audience to the self-help niche. I would recommend “Shining Bright” as a more inclusive alternative.
  • Characters (4) The author’s personality comes across clearly and her assessment of her own strengths and weaknesses makes her very engaging. We get a sense of her husband but would like to have known more about her children.

I scored lowest in:

  • Pace (2) I found the pace of this book too fast and wanted the author to more fully explore the topics she chose. For example, “Nixing News” raises important issues that are glossed over. (The questions then posed by the reviewer would make great book club discussion questions!)

In the Summary, I received a great review that tells me I hit the mark for where I was aiming:

  • Shine Bright is a light, engaging read that nonetheless makes readers examine some of their own choices. The author is not preaching and is frank about her mistakes.

Critical Feedback and Partnerships Raise the Bar

Critical feedback is so important for helping to raise the bar for independent authors in our country. I feel motivated to continue writing as a result of feedback from the Whistler Independent Book Awards, and I have a solid understanding about where to improve.

Farida Somjee won the 2017 fiction category for The Beggar’s Dance. And Paul Shore’s Uncorked: My Year in Provence won in the non-fiction category. I met and visited with both winners at the 2017 Whistler Writers Festival in October.

Paul Shore and Farida Somjee at book awards in Canada
Paul Shore (non-fiction) and Farida Somjee (fiction) at the 2017 Whistler Writers Festival

I love this intimate festival that offers a variety of a la carte workshops, panels, author readings and pitch sessions. There was something on the menu for our whole family this year — both our kids attended events at the Whistler Public Library. And I absolutely love how inclusive the Whistler Writers Festival is of both traditional and independent publishers. The festival’s partnership with Vivalogue to promote and showcase the Whistler Independent Book Awards (and the award winners) is one that will raise the bar for independents in Canada.

Where are your favourite writers festivals, and what is special about them? Have you ever submitted your book for an award? What are your thoughts on the quality of self-published (independent) books in Canada? Do you think book awards in Canada will contribute to raising the bar? What else can raise the bar for independents? How do you commit to producing quality work?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: