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June 29, 2020
By PW Staff
The Selfies Book Awards aims to recognize and support the work of indie authors

Indie author Tim Westover has won the first-ever Selfies U.S. Book Award for The Winter Sisters, as announced during a virtual ceremony at the American Library Association’s annual conference on June 24.

The Selfies Book Awards was originally launched by BookBrunch in the U.K. in 2018, in collaboration with IngramSpark and the London Book Fair. The Selfies U.S. are sponsored by IngramSpark, Ingram’s e-book and print self-publishing platform, and Combined Book Exhibit, and run in association with BookBrunch. The shortlisted authors for this year’s award were: Athena’s Choice by Adam Boostrom; A Murder of Ravens by Paty Jager; The Lady’s Jewels by Perpetua Langley; and A Thread So Fine by Susan E. Welch.

Jo Henry, managing director of BookBrunch and a juror for the awards, called The Winter Sisters “a brilliantly realized depiction of the conflict between new scientific theories and traditional herbal remedies, set in a small 19th-century community under threat of rabies.” A recent BookLife review for The Winter Sisters praised the book, saying that "historical fiction fans will be riveted by this immersive portrait of medicine and superstition in 19th-century rural Georgia."

Westover's innate curiosity about the vestiges of the past, led him to write The Winter Sisters, which is his second novel following Auraria. The first seeds of inspiration for the book grew from studying the environs of his small Georgian town: "it was place names. How does a street come to be named Honest Alley, or small town Hope Hollow? Freeman's Mill? Webb Gin House Road? Hog Mountain? Jug Tavern? I'd be stuck in traffic, looking at the signs, and wondering what history had been replaced by parking lots," Westover says.

"There's a substantial segment of authors that speak to smaller audiences..."
As he began writing, he had a general sense of conflict at the heart of the book: "I had the dynamic of 'arrogant doctor vs. folk healers' early on. But the plot details and the specifics of the sister's folk methods, the doctor's misguided 19th century medicine, the backdrop of the town's history, the patent medicines all came from research." Westover weaves ephemeral bits of history throughout the ficitonalized material. For example, a speech delivered during a medicine show is taken word-for-word from a 19th-century advertisement.

Westover has an agent, but felt that self-publishing The Winter Sisters would be the most pragmatic option. "Indies carry the stigma of 'not good enough to get traditionally published.' And sometimes that's true. But there's also a substantial segment of authors that speak to smaller audiences, whether that’s something regional (like my book) or a hyper-specific genre or a minority cultural voice," Westover says. He acknowledges that publishers have a bottom line and that even books of great merit do not always break through: "It costs a major publisher the same to put out a bestseller as it does a book with a narrower appeal. The feedback my agent was getting from publishers wasn’t 'this isn’t good.' It was 'we don’t know how to sell this.' Publishers necessarily want to focus on the books with the best profit potential. That’s totally fine. It’s a business. But the indie publishing model allows those other voices to be heard, without the burden of needing to sell 100,000 copies to turn a profit for a major publisher."

With the renewed attention that The Winter Sisters is receiving following his Selfies win (notably, Westover and The Winter Sisters were recently featured in the Washington Post Book Club newsletter), Westover is open to new publishing opportunities. In the meantime, he's working on another novel set in North Georgia: "Auraria was set in the 1890's in North Georgia. The Winter Sisters is 1822 and a bit further south, in the Georgia Piedmont. For the next book, I'm looking even a little earlier, a little further south into the Wiregrass--a riverboat trip with my usual mix of supernatural and folklore."