Sunday, January 9, 2022

And the Winner Is

Awards for crime fiction from year to year ride a line between subjective merit and a popularity contest -- agree or disagree?. And what is your personal philosophy on awards -- their impact on readers (and you, if you've won any) and on subsequent award years?

Brenda Chapman chiming in. Happy New Year, all!

The Oxford Dictionary defines an award as: "a prize or other mark of recognition given in honor of an achievement". A neat and tidy action on the surface but one fraught with problems. How does one decide which achievement warrants recognition over another? Can an objective evaluation of a piece of writing ever be truly objective?

I love awards, don't get me wrong. Recognition is always welcome and gives a warm, fuzzy feeling. It's nice to have one's hard work get some love. An award signals to readers and those in the book industry that this book is good and worth purchasing or taking out of the library. It gives the author a boost in an industry that can be humbling and hard.

The downside though is that not all judging is the same, and how could it be? Everybody has different tastes and standards. I learned this while being on a panel of three judges for a short story contest. The best piece of writing was obvious to me as were second and third place. Imagine my shock when the other two judges didn't even have my winner in their top three. That's what we call an eye-opener.

Not to mention, deciding one book is the year's best in a specific category is false by its very definition. The judges do not have every book written that year -- publishers and authors could not possibly submit a book to every single contest. So naming one the year's best doesn't take into account all the books not judged.

I was also shocked to discover at book conferences I attended that some of these awards are determined a great deal by an author's popularity. To support this observation, I've been asked on several occasions to fill in a voting form even though I hadn't read a single book on the list. That was a second eye-opening moment. I've even been at a conference where I watched an author in contention 'work the room'. for votes. I'm not saying I blame them or that their book didn't deserve to win, but this doesn't further the idea of objectivity in judging.

I've been fortunate to have a book shortlisted seven or eight times although unfortunate enough never to win. I can't say that I've noticed any appreciable uptake in sales or recognition from making these lists, but I believe librarians and booksellers are aware. I recall someone telling me once about being considered for a speaking engagement at a particular event that unless I'd won an award not to even bother applying. I believe this gives too much credence to these awards, not all of which are executed equally. 

Now, I did have a nice surprise that kept growing over the past two weeks. My Cold Mourning audiobook made top ten lists around the world for most borrowed audiobook from public library systems in 2021. It placed second in Great Britain and first in Australia with the Butterfly Kills audiobook coming in seventh or eighth on the same lists. The most recent Publisher's Weekly post has Cold Mourning finishing third in 94 library systems ( 76,000 libraries and schools) for 2021 behind Barack Obama's A Promised Land and Delia Owen's Where the Crawdads Sing, both books I've read and admired. So while not an award exactly, an honour certainly.

I have a bit of news to start off the new year. Blind Date, first in the new Hunter and Tate Mystery Series, will be released March 1st, and the Kindle version is now available for pre-order on Amazon. I'm excited to release my latest work into the world!


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Susan C Shea said...

The audio book popularity is an honor and to have it echoed in more than one country is pretty remarkable - so, congratulations, Brenda!

Brenda Chapman said...

Thanks Susan - It was a surprise that I'm still absorbing :-)