Book Awards – do they make a difference?

Success Way r by Kostya KisleykoI posted earlier about Saving Poetry Publishers and also the 2009 Montana New Zealand Book Awards. If you’ve been following the comments, you’ll be aware of a good point raised by Tim Jones: that the fees for entering a book in the Awards may be prohibitive for small publishers. This is the current fee structure:

  • The entry fee is NZ$100 (including GST) per submission, or NZ$150 (including GST) for publishers who are not members of Booksellers New Zealand. For books with a print run of fewer than 1,000 copies, [umm, that would be all poetry publishers?] this drops to NZ$85 (including GST), or NZ$125 (including GST) for publishers who are not members of Booksellers New Zealand.
  • Five copies of each title being submitted should accompany the entry fee.
  • Publishers of finalist titles will be required to supply up to 10 additional copies of each title for promotional purposes.

So most poetry publishers would be looking at $125 plus fifteen copies of the book.

And is it actually worth it anyway?

In the editorial of the most recent New Zealand Listener, there is the following comment:
Success Way r by Kostya Kisleyko

The awards, it is insisted, are not primarily about marketing but about rewarding excellence. But surely the marketing of that excellence is itself part of the reward.

Indeed, marketing materials is one of the biggest costs of the awards. Yet publishers say sales increases are usually marginal for anything other than the winners of the overall medals for fiction and non fiction.


So, do they make a difference?

  • Did reading the list of nominees spur you to buy one of the books? Or even read one? 
  • Did you talk about the list with other people?
  • Have you ever bought a book because it won an award?





Addendum: this year is the last year under Montana’s sponsorship, and so Book Sellers New Zealand are reviewing the awards, and are calling for public submissions.

Submissions should be emailed to:,
or mailed to Booksellers New Zealand, PO Box 13248, Johnsonville, Wellington 6440
by 1 July 2009.

Submissions will be listed online at, by name and date, from Wednesday 10 June. They will be available to download in full, in pdf format.

6 Replies to “Book Awards – do they make a difference?”

  1. I have heard small press publishers over here complain in the same way, though it has to be said the big guys don’t completely dominate awards as they seem to in NZ. But I’ve heard Chris Hamilton-Emery of Salt say that winning or being shortlisted for awards doesn’t of itself sell books, and I think it’s probably true. My least well-selling book is the one that was chosen as a PBS recommendation and shortlisted for the TS Eliot prize. My publisher moaned that the PBS demanded such a huge discount on copies that any extra sales were useless to him. Another book was shortlisted for Whitbread (Costa it is now) and that didn’t increase sales either. You need to make some publicity out of it, and I mean outside the poetry world.

    1. I suspect it’s the extra publicity aspect that is the real key. If no-one knows the book exists, they aren’t likely to buy a copy. But the other side of the argument is what happens if the awards themselves become unpopular – does being listed for such an award hurt potential sales?

      (As an aside – I’ve heard before that the PBS do take a huge cut. But I have to say that being a member has certainly increased the number of UK poetry books I’ve read and bought.)

      Speaking as a reader yourself Sheenagh, do awards have any impact on your reading choices? Are you more/less likely to read a book that’s been on a shortlist or won an award?

      1. I don’t think so, though as you say it may make the difference between hearing of the book and not. For instance, when David Harsent’s Legion was listed for the Forward, I bought it, but not directly because of that – rather because of what I’d seeen written about it and the poems I’d seen quoted. Now obviously I’d not have seen those but for the award, but if I hadn’t liked them, the listing would not have influenced me. Myself I’d say any publicity (almost!) is better than none, especially if it’s non-poetry-related and therefore counts as news. I would be quite interested to see if Padel’s sales have gone up. I doubt if being listed can ever hurt sales. With reviews, I do think I have now and then gone off the idea of a book because it was praised by a reviewer whose judgement I had learned to despise.

  2. Salt publish fantastic work. I recently got Bruce Andrew’s collection Designated Heartbeat, and Fig by Caroline Bergvall is on my “to buy” list.

    I think small publishers are the life-blood of literature, especially poetry. In a post (i’m not sure where, sorry) on the recent book fair in the states, where large houses were complaining of feeling the pinch, one vociferous blogger said that this could be a good thing; after all, when was the last time you bought a poetry book from a large or university press just because they published it? I’m liable to at least consider buying anything that Action Books puts out, or Apostrophe, or any number of small presses – and most of these are in the states, so I’m paying extra for shipping.

    1. Not two authors that I know. I shall have to look them up.

      By the way Ross, have a great book launch on Friday night. I’m sorry I can’t be there – I’m smitten with the nasty cold that’s going around. (Nothing porcine, but not exactly the sort of sound effects anyone wants for a launch!) Will the MCB be carrying copies?

  3. Thanks Joanna, I won’t hold it against you! MCB will, along with UBS. I haven’t talked to Scorpio yet. You can also order copies off my blog thanks to the wonders of PayPal.

    Hope you feel better soon.


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