The SCBWI Sparks Award: Recognizing Excellence in Self-Published Books

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The Society of Children’s Bookwriters and Illustrators has recently announced the formation of a new award, the Spark Award, which is designed to recognize excellence in books published in a “non-traditional publishing route.”

As the 2013 winner of the Writer’s Digest Self-Published award for children’s picture books, I find this announcement an exciting development. The push toward self-publishing in the adult world has been slower to move into children’s books in a serious way. The old stigmas about vanity presses and poor quality are hard to shake. Indeed, some reports say a majority of self-published authors are just hobbyist. But even that has changed dramatically in the last few years. This new award from the SCBWI is an acknowledgment that many self-publish by choice and that they turn out excellent work.

The Pros

The biggest plus for the Spark Award is that it is designed to recognize good books by amazing authors/illustrators. Hurrah! This overcomes almost every objection. And likewise, this award shows that the SCBWI is responding to the needs of its members. As the only professional organization devoted to those who write and illustrate books for children, it’s an important step for the industry.

Winner of the 2013 Writer's Digest Self-Published Books award for children's picture book category. Received a Starred Review in Publisher's Weekly.

Winner of the 2013 Writer’s Digest Self-Published Books award for children’s picture book category. Received a Starred Review in Publisher’s Weekly.

The Cons

Still, the award isn’t without controversy. There’s only one award for toddler to YA books; the judges will have a hard time comparing apples and oranges. But it’s still a reasonable step for the SCBWI to take; they are establishing one award and when they see the response to this one, they can make adjustments in the future. If only a dozen books are submitted, one award may suffice; if 1200 books are submitted, they will want to rethink.

The Spark award requires that you provide proof of copyright registration. It’s hard to fault the idea behind this requirement; registering copyright is a solid and professional business practice for a publisher. And yet, this requirement is also odd because copyright registration is a business practice. Instead, I’d rather see all the emphasis put on the quality of the book.

Finally, I’m just a little uncomfortable with the idea of the award itself. Segregating self-published books into a separate award could, under the wrong circumstances, label the books submitted there as second-class citizens. It implies that these books can’t compete for the other SCBWI awards because of quality issues. While quality may vary wildly in self-published books, they also vary widely in traditionally published books. It’s an unsettling assumption. The best scenario would be for the SCBWI to remove barriers for self-published books to be considered for all eligible awards. In the absence of this, the winner of the SPARK should automatically be considered for any eligible Golden Kite or other awards. (CORRECTION: Books by SCGWI members are already eligible for all awards, regardless of where they are published.)

Still, the Spark award a positive step toward recognizing excellence in children’s literature, regardless of where it comes from. And for that, we say, “Thank you, SCBWI.” This will be an award to watch!

See full information on the Spark Award here. You (both writer and illustrator) must be a member of SCBWI to be eligible.

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