The IPPY Effect

Book Awards Benefit Publishers in Many Ways
Independent Publisher awarded author Jack Fritscher the "IPPY" for "Story Teller of the Year" at BEA 2002 for his general-fiction novel, What They Did to the Kid: Confessions of an Altar Boy. Little did the judges know how pertinent the book's content would become in the year ahead.

Fritscher, a schoolmate of Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law, made famous in the on-going sex-abuse trials, wrote this "memoir disguised as a novel" from his journals, rather than rip it from the headlines. Called by one reviewer "a Catholic Catcher in the Rye," this insider-peek into the secret culture of priests is not about sex-abuse. Kid is a comic coming-of-age novel that never offends readers' sensibilities. The book was also listed as "One of the Top 100 Books You Are Reading" by CNN.

"The Independent Publisher Book Award is an honor, absolutely!" says Mark Hemry of Palm Drive Publishing in San Francisco. "The publicity sold out the hardcover version of What They Did to the Kid, and because it was a cash award, the check went directly to the funding of the trade paperback of Kid. Future recipients might covet this award for its media publicity and financial support. Independent Publisher put its awards money where its mouth is. This publisher and author couldn't be more grateful for this 'grant to the arts' from Independent Publisher."

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It's one thing to promote headline-grabbing fiction award-winners such as Confessions of an Altar Boy and Peace Like a River (see related story), but what about genre fiction and categories like Erotica and Gay Lit? We spoke with Perry Brass, winner of the 2002 IPPY Award in the Gay/Lesbian category for his book Warlock: A Novel of Possession (Belhue Press 2001) and Sadie Allison, winner of the Erotica/Sexuality category for Tickle Your Fancy (Tickle Kitty Press 2001).

Allison has made quite a splash in the Sex How-To market, selling books through a wide variety of outlets. Tickle Your Fancy is selling in mainstream bookstores as well as adult novelty shops, from the corner adult video store to lingerie boutiques.

"It's been a wild ride," says Allison. "When I finished writing, I was content just to have a book to hold in my hand. Winning the IPPY Award brought me credibility and recognition, and that prestige really spurred me on. Especially when you're solo and working out of your home, receiving an award is a big confidence boost."

Now, 50,000 copies of Tickle Kitty later, she's a hot media guest on TV, radio and at trade shows, has just released her second book, Toy Gasms!, and she has more books and products in the works. Chain stores and wholesalers are placing orders for 1,000 at a time. A Borders buyer told her, "This is the way a sex book should be, accessible and fun."

"Having that IPPY sticker on the book opens doors, both with buyers and with the media," she says. "It was a struggle at first, as a self-publisher pitching a book on a difficult, taboo topic. But I'm a warrior, and I've carved out a niche that people seem to respond to."

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Perry Brass has found the publishing options for GLBT authors somewhat tougher, especially as an author of gay fiction.

"On one hand the options are slim," he says. "You are easily marginalized, pigeonholed, and dispensed with. Most big houses, the ones owned by mega-media corporations, will not touch you with a hundred-foot pole. You are simply off their radar screen, unless you have some real inside dirt on celebrities who may be gay -- an 'outing' book, for instance -- or you have some kind of fairly innocuous cross-over horror book, like Anne and Christopher Rice or Clive Barker put out.

"On the other hand, some independent presses are kept alive by gay and lesbian books, like Cleis, Allyson, Circlet, and Arsenal Pulp in Vancouver. They actively seek these titles; as well as many university presses who have done very well with glbt titles. A good example is Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers, by Lillian Faderman, which was the biggest selling book in the history of Columbia University Press."

"What makes working in glbt writing and publishing so wonderful are the readers, who are amazingly loyal -- I have readers who buy virtually all of the 12 books I've published -- and also the personnel of gay bookstores, who are devoted to these books. There are about 50 glbt bookstores in the country, and perhaps another 200 stores with very strong glbt shelves. People have told me that my books have changed their lives. What else can any writer ask for -- except, of course, lots of money!"

"Luckily, there is still a sense of 'book buzz' in the glbt community, and lots of community papers who still review books. So you don't have to have a mega-promotion budget for a book to sell respectfully and get out to the public you are seeking. However, the bigger gay 'slicks,' like The Advocate and OUT, are now very corporate-minded, and for the most part will not touch you editorially unless you spend big bucks advertising with them."

On winning the IPPY Award:
"I always say about awards, 'They let somebody else sell me, for a change, instead of me constantly having to sell myself.' Awards mean that you get some other chance for recognition, that people who might not know about you will, that your book is now 'news' again, after its initial review season, which lasts now only a few weeks to a few months. And, very important-not to be overlooked-they mean that your peers are noticing you."

"I was really delighted to win an IPPY for Warlock: A Novel of Possession because the book was snubbed in 2002 for a Lambda Literary Award, or 'Lammy,' which is the most known glbt book award in the country. My book was not declared a finalist, and so were several other really worthwhile books, which I found upsetting. I thought that Warlock was the best novel I'd written so far, and though I'd been a finalist five times for Lammies, Warlock was not even named a finalist. I can live with the 'politics' of awards, as an author you get used to it. So although I can see why my books are not going to win that award, not even being picked as a finalist hurt me. So I was pleased and proud to win an IPPY, a national award, and to see that the unique qualities of Warlock were recognized."

(Editor's note: Warlock: A Novel of Possession is about 'a New York awash in money and yet always a hair away from the bubble's burst of a catastrophe.' The 2002 Independent Publisher Book Award winner in the Gay/Lesbian category features narrator Allen Barrow, whose friends are 'polite, shy men like himself who gather to eat in affordable restaurants and know each other as refugees from their own families.' The conservative, frugal Barrow's life is transformed when he falls under the spell of rich, brash Destry Powars. But what exactly are the strange Mr. Powar's dark powers? These are the mysteries that Allen will uncover in this novel that is as paralyzing in its suspense as it is voluptuously erotic.)

What advice do these "award-winning" authors have?

Brass: "To succeed in publishing you must have an understanding of where your book fits into the market, and be able to see how a book actually works -- what, exactly, will the reader get out of the book. I want the reader to express himself through my books, instead of me simply expressing myself. So the book has to take the reader someplace he has only been daring himself to go, and let him really be there. This has caused the huge market in fantasy books, which have actually left the stale, over-commercialized 'Star Trek,' 'sci-fi' niche, and become something on their own, books of an 'alternative reality.' Readers have wanted these kind of books since the days of Robert Louis Stevenson, and they want them even more now."

Allison: "If I were to coach new authors about book promotion, I'd really push radio interviews as a whole new world of opportunity." (Sadie makes her third appearance on the Bob & Tom Show on Feb. 4, our press date. The syndicated show has 140 stations nationwide, and her sales get a big boost the day of the appearance.)

Brass: "Having your book professionally edited and designed is important, but what really does it is simply working like a dog to create a great book. You cannot put too much of yourself into this thing that you should love doing in the first place. It is sad to me that so many people don't realize that it is not the competition with good books that hurts the market, it is the slew of bad, amateurish books that flood the market and turn people off buying books completely. Unfortunately, a lot of these bad books are slung off the large corporate presses just as much as from the smaller ones; it is just that the corporate press books are marketed to the hilt. What I want the readers to do is say 'Wow, these books are spectacular; I've got to have them!' and then buy a lot of books."

"Don't give up on awards. You never can tell what the reaction to your book will be. But hopefully, it will be the reaction you want, and what the book deserves."