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Kim Wilson
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Society Book Awards: Members Only?
by Bernadette Geyer

Groucho Marx liked to say, "I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member." If you are an author who feels that way, you just might be missing out on a potential niche market for your writing. It seems that, nowadays, for every interest there is a corresponding "society" or "association" that aficionados can join. And many of those societies and organizations have established annual prizes to recognize important books published by members of their society, or on the society's subject of interest.

PeaceCorpsWriters.org, founded in 1989, began offering annual awards in 1990 to honor the literary achievements of former or current Peace Corps volunteers. The organization currently presents six awards each year: Paul Cowan Nonfiction Award, Maria Thomas Fiction Award, Moritz Thomsen Peace Corps Experience Award, Award for Best Poetry, Award for Best Travel Writing and Award for Best Children's Writing. Winners receive a special citation and cash awards.

However, most organizations don't exclude books by non-members. The Association for Asian Studies explicitly states in its competition rules that authors "need not be members of the AAS." It opens its six awards to any book published on one of six topics, such as the John Whitney Hall Book Prize, which is awarded for an outstanding English-language book published on Japan or Korea.

Most of the societies and organizations that offer book awards simply seek to honor books on subjects dear to them. The Phi Beta Kappa Society gives annual awards to "outstanding scholarly books that have been published in the United States in the fields of the humanities, the social sciences, the natural sciences and mathematics." Each of its three awards carries a cash prize of $2,500, which goes to the author. The Western Front Association was formed in 1980 to honor the memory of those who fought in World War I. Its United States Branch founded the Tomlinson Prize in 1999, which annually awards $3,000 and a certificate for the best work of history, in English, on the World War One era.

Other book awards offered by membership association include:

American Association for Ukrainian Studies Book Awards

American Historical Association Book Prizes

American Mathematical Society Book Prize

American Philosophical Association Book Prize

Law and Society Association, Herbert Jacob Book Prize

The World History Association Book Award

Publishers, as well as authors, should be aware of all the societies and organizations that offer awards on niche subjects. In particular, there are many awards for books focused on the natural and social sciences. Many of the book awards allow author or third party nominations of books, and many awards do not disqualify self-published books. There are typically no entry fees for nominating a book for these awards; however, a copy of the nominated book must be sent, often with the author's Curriculum Vitae or biography. Be sure to thoroughly read all guidelines before nominating a book for an award.

2005, Bernadette Geyer

Bernadette Geyer is the author of the poetry chapbook What Remains  (Argonne House Press) and manages the Resources for Poets Web site. Her poetry and nonfiction have appeared in a wide variety of venues including South Dakota Review, Elle.com, The Midwest Quarterly and World Energy Review.









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