Speech by Steve Burt, Grand Prize Winner, 2019 New York Book Festival

In June I was thrilled when Bruce Haring and JM Northern Media, coordinators of the 2019 New York Book Festival, informed me that my novel, The Bookseller's Daughter, had won first place in the Adult Fiction category. Even better, the book had also been named the overall Grand Prize Winner—which gave me bragging rights, publicity, and a much-appreciated $1500 check. That's a huge adrenalin rush for a retired small-church pastor from Maine who has written in near obscurity for 45 years, earning virtually no royalty checks. So let me start off by offering my sincere thanks to Bruce and his organization for creating this competition that helps small, independent writers and publishers, and for giving me and others like me the opportunity to place our writing in a competition that has given me—and some others—some much-needed recognition and a little financial boost.

My wife Jolyn and I first attended the New York Book Festival Awards in 2010, when my first novel, FreeK Camp, a thriller about psychic teen detectives, won first place in the Young Adult category. We enjoyed the banquet and the awards ceremony at the Algonquin Hotel and took advantage of our chance to sit at the famous Writer's Round Table when we arrived. It was the perfect setting for a literary awards event.

When Bruce called me up to the podium, after giving a capsule summary of my novel, he said that FreeK Camp had "almost won the grand prize," and that it was the book in the competition most worthy of being made into a MOVIE. Bruce's remarks, those little words of praise and encouragement, were worth the price of admission, because they spurred me on to write a sequel, FreeK Show, which two years later won the New York Book Festival Award for Best Young Adult Fiction. Then, two years later I finished writing the third in the trilogy, FreeK Week, and self-published it. It won Best Young Adult Fiction as well as the grand prize at the 2015 Florida Book Festival, also sponsored by JM Northern Media. (The banquet and awards ceremony in Orlando was as nice as New York's had been.)

Winning these awards has helped keep my spirits up during the many lonely times all of us writers face. We suffer rejection regularly at the hands of traditional publishing, and to that we must add the burden of poor financial reward for our efforts—neither the rejection nor the low financial rewards necessarily having any connection to the quality of our work. Good and great books get rejected every day—many unread.

In my case, however, as an author who is an independent publisher, I can point to these awards when speaking with potential book buyers—at arts & crafts shows in Maine and Florida, which is where my market is—and the award often help the buyer decide to take a chance on this local author, this relative unknown, this writer who isn't Stephen King or JK Rowling or Nicholas Sparks. And many of those book buyers now come back to me for the next book. My book sales can't really be described as profitable, but they give me enough to pay for design, production, and printing. Which spurs me to write and publish the next book.

I must admit—and I declare this unapolgetically--I owe a lot to Bruce Haring and the JM Northern organization that created and sponsors the New York and Florida Book Festival Awards, for without them I'm not sure I'd have persevered in writing the second, third, and fourth novels. Without this acknowledgment and encouragement, I might have stopped at FreeK Camp, which would have been a shame for both this writer and a small but loyal following of readers.