Steve Burt's Florida Book Festival acceptance speech for his Grand Prize winner, FreeK Week

1/31/15 Orlando, FL -

First, let me say thank you to Bruce Haring and J.M. Northern Media for organizing the Florida Book Festival Awards and the many other book festivals they manage. Most of these books are written because we have something to say, to share, and truth must out. Second, let me say thank you to them for awarding my young-adult thriller, FreeK Week, the grand prize and a $1,000 appearance fee.

FreeK Week is the third in the ongoing FreeKs series about psychic and paranormal teen detectives kids with some pretty cool powers like levitation, out-of-body travel, remote hearing, and communication with ghosts, among other gifts. This third book is not only a fun mystery, but is a fun, educational romp across central Florida in search of kidnappers and killers. Readers get to learn about Cassadaga (the psychic medium capital of the world), where the teens spend the weekend, tour the village, and get psychic readings that help advance the plot. A couple of them snoop around Gibsonton (home to retired side show and carnival workers). The book also features a mad doctor and a hit man in the 55+ community where I live, The Villages.

The Villages is professionally promoted with the slogan Florida's Friendliest Hometown which it may well be, unless somebody's trying to kill you. FreeK Week is a good book and last week was Best Young Adult Fiction at the New England Book Festival; before that it won a Mom's Choice Award gold, the fourth for the FreeKs series, bringing the awards total to 24.

These awards are important to me and to those of you who have been named winners, runners-up, or honorable mentions. It's not just the ego boost, though that's gratifying. The recognition also helps legitimize us when we're showing our book to a potential purchaser. Many of us are self-publishers here, though there are also some entries from small presses and even from traditional publishers. And frankly, we know that self-publishers are at a disadvantage. As the comic Rodney Dangerfield might say, "We don't get no respect."

Rodney's right, and part of that disrespected or unrespect is deserved. There are plenty of low-quality self-published books out there: some poorly written, some poorly or not-at-all edited, some full of typos, spelling, and grammar mistakes, many embarrassing.

But there are also some high-quality self-published books out there. And some of them are better than many of the traditionally published books. Being traditionally published doesn't guarantee quality.

Which brings me back to the subject of independent awards like the various Book Festival Awards, or the Ippies, or the Indie Excellence Awards, or the Moonbeam Children's Book Awards, or the Forewords, the Writer's Digests Self-Published Book Awards, the Benjamin Franklins, the Mom's Choice. We have them because we self-publishers with our good quality, our medium quality, and our high quality books are largely closed out of the big-name, well-known awards that favor only traditional publishing houses.

Let me illustrate. The first book in my self-published FreeKs series was FreeK Camp. It got great reviews and won a dozen awards in 2010. It's an ebook and an audio book. Readers and reviewers loved it. Several of my professional writer colleagues who read it said, "It's good enough to win the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America in the young adult category." To which I answered, "It may be, but it's not a question of quality. The fact is, the MWA, of which I was a dues-paying member, won't consider self-published books for the Edgars, no matter how well-written or popular they are. That bias holds true for the Thriller Writers, too, and most of the other better-known (older) awards organizations, including the National Book Awards. They're all still tied to the vetting process that they associate only with traditional publishing houses."

So, FreeK Camp, FreeK Show, and FreeK Week may be good enough for an Edgar, but because of that longstanding bias, they are excluded from consideration. This is the harsh reality we self-published authors must face when we choose an alternate, non-traditional route.

Again, these independent awards are important acknowledgements kind of like the Sundance Film Festival for self-pubbers important acknowledgements at a time in history when mainstream publishing doesn't know what to do with us. I'm thankful for these alternative awards that lift up the hidden gems and the diamonds-in-the-rough that come largely out of the newly developing world of self-publishing. I'm honored to be in the company of you who are category winners, runners-up, and honorable mentions. And I'm thrilled to be here to accept the Florida Book Festival Award for my young adult mystery, FreeK Week.