When will a self-published book win the National Book Award? (When it’s not self-published)

Does self-publishing mean you’ll never have a chance at winning a book award?

It certainly seems that way.

The PEN New England Hemingway Foundation Award for First Fiction notes on its submission form — in bold type no less:

No self-published books, electronic submissions, or e-books are eligible for consideration.

Now I realize they’re trying to avoid an onslaught of books from people like me. But what if someone like me happened to write a National Book Award-worthy book? I have to believe there are some gems out there in the self-publishing hinterland, but we’ll never know because these books don’t even get a chance to compete.  And that’s a shame. It’s not as if PEN couldn’t throw in a reading fee to deal with the extra reviewers required.

Let’s suppose Jonathan Franzen (or some other well known, highly awarded author) decides to self-publish his next book. Will the rules be changed? Will these authors get grandfathered in? I have a feeling it will take someone like Franzen to do just that to force the folks who give out these awards to take off their blinders.

And I’m not just trying to pick on PEN. Let’s take a look at the National Book Award. Can I apply for this one?


According to the entry guidelines:

Self-published books and e-books are eligible, provided that the author/publisher also publishes titles by other authors. Note: the Foundation may request the publisher’s catalog as proof of multiple publications.

I had to read this line twice. Are they saying that self-published writers are eligible provided that they’re not self-published?

Joseph Heller would be proud.

And I’ll leave you with this little screen grab, from the home page of PEN:

All “traditionally published” authors, they mean.

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