Awards are nice, and people are nicer

Angie Chuang IPPY ceremony







Photo courtesy of Independent Publishers Book Awards

I learned that my debut book, The Four Words for Home, received a bronze medal in the Independent Publishers Book Awards while checking my email in a quiet seminar room at American University, giving one of my students a make-up final exam. I had to resist the urge to jump up and celebrate, for fear of disrupting anyone.

That moment was an apt metaphor for the double-edged sword of external validation: Authors, especially small-press ones, don’t expect it (the work is its own reward, right?), but we love getting it. And when we do, we feel a bit awkward about owning it. I received a bronze in the Multicultural Nonfiction Adult category of the IPPYs, as they are known.

When I got to the awards ceremony at the striking and historic Providence NYC in Midtown Manhattan, I met other small-press authors who had won medals. Some had traveled from as far as New Zealand.

IPPY Awards Providence NYCPhoto courtesy of Independent Publishers Book Awards

“My publisher offered to come for me if I couldn’t,” a children’s author from Pennsylvania told me. “I said, ‘No way! I’m going.’ It’s so rare to get any recognition in this industry, I’m going to make the most of this.”

As I met awards organizers like emcee Jim Barnes and others from Independent Publisher and Jenkins Group, who spoke of sorting through 6,000+ entries and recruiting jurors (many of them volunteers) for more than 100 categories, I realized that my validation wasn’t about a medal. It was that many smart and passionate people put together a program to give independent publishers and authors a pat on the back.

IMG_2730The next day, I saw that my publisher, Heather Buchanan-Gueringer of Aquarius Press / Willow Books, had put the news at the top of the press’ website and Facebook page with great fanfare.

I sent my first copy with a shiny medal sticker to Jessica Nguyen-Ventura, her wife Chi, and their new baby Alexander, whom I had just spent Mother’s Day weekend in Portland with, collecting material for my next book. Their excitement at getting the book was more rewarding than hardware.

Still, I hope small-press authors and publishers keep putting books up for awards and organizations like the IPPYs keep giving them, because these gestures mean more than we may let on.

Perhaps British actor Bill Nighy put it best. “I used to think that prizes were damaging and divisive, until I got one,” he said. “And now they seem sort of meaningful and real.”


  1. I enjoyed reading your article. Congratulations on your award! You worked very hard and being acknowledged is wonderful. Celebrate!

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