Tuesday, January 11, 2022



Happy New Year, everyone! From Terry 

 This week’s topic is AWARDS. We’re discussing whether award nominations are due to subjective merit or are they a popularity contest? What affect do the awards have other than to make an author feel good. Do awards make for more sales?
I remember before I was published hearing an author say that awards were nothing but popularity contests. I didn’t know one way or another. It seemed to me the books I read that were nominated were usually pretty good. Plus, when I was able to nominate books, I took it very seriously. 

 And then, my first book was nominated for a few awards. And the question took on a whole new meaning. I knew that the book must have been nominated on merit, because I didn’t know enough people to be the winner of a popularity contest. Instead, it seemed to be the result of “buzz.” A few influencers in the writing world praised the book, and their opinions seemed to matter. Buzz can also be created by good marketing.
“Buzz” Is probably one reason why some authors’ books get nominated repeatedly. People read their first book and like it and that leads them to read the next one, which is equally good. Was it as good as another book written that year? Maybe. But the point is, once an authors’ books are in the limelight, the author tends to get read again…and again. 

 Which brings me back to the question of popularity. Since my first book was nominated, I’ve gotten to know a lot more people, and my books have been nominated for various awards, so the answer is murkier. So what constitutes “popularity?” Is it a popular book, or a popular person? I’ve read some great books that never got nominated for awards, and also read some books nominated (and even winning) awards that I didn’t care for. I’ve known some delightful authors whom people really like personally, but whose books have never been nominated for awards. And I’ve known some people who seemed “chilly,” shall we say, whose books consistently get nominated for awards. I suspect part of it is not so much popularity, as name recognition.  

 The one award I think has little to do with popularity is the Edgars. A few years ago, I was on the Edgar committee to judge the Best Paperback Original. It was a sobering and enlightening task. There are some really bad books out there, but there are also many, many good ones. The nominated committees aren’t looking for name recognition or for “good books. They are looking for the best books (or short stories, or films) published in a given year. Before I was a judge, I shrugged off Edgar nominations as “the opinion of a few people.” 

I learned that committee members are chosen for as much diversity as possible (men, women, people of color, types of books they write, geographical diversity, LGBTQ diversity). And I also learned that committee members take their task very seriously. I was surprised that in the end the committee members almost all agreed on the top ten books. In our category And in the end, blind voting easily produced the top five (or in our case, six, because two of them tied). 

Even more surprising, after some short discussion, blind voting came up with the winner in the first round. “Buzz” turned out to have nothing to do with the choices. There were a couple of well-known authors in the mix, and some unknowns. What counted was the quality of the books—according to the committee members. It’s likely that another group of people might have chosen a different set of books. But the important thing is that we read with different backgrounds, different likes and dislikes, different viewpoints, and yet came up with a common list. 

 The Edgars would seem to be a special case in awards, but I wonder. When I receive ballots for nominations for awards like the Left Coast Crime “lefties,” or for the Anthonys, which are reader-driven awards, I very seriously consider my choices. And personality never enters into it. 

I can’t imagine voting for a book I didn’t much like simply because I like the author. I don’t nominate books in categories that I don’t often read. For example, if I’ve only read two humorous books, I will still nominate in that category only if I think the book were good. I don’t know if others take it that seriously, or if they nominate merely on whether they “know and like” an author. I do know that a couple of times I’ve been approached by authors for “quid pro quo” votes—you vote for my book and I’ll vote for yours. Nothing doing. I don’t blame the authors who do this. It’s hard to get your books recognized. But “best” for me, means “best.” And I hate to think that someone is being nominated just because they manipulated the vote, or because they are “popular.” 

 I spoke with one author whose view on the subject was that it’s sad that so many authors get nominated again and again, while some perfectly good writers never get that “tap on the shoulder” that tells her that she has done a great job. I wish there were more ways of recognizing authors who write really good books. 

 I went into the whole “award” business glowing from recognition, but also at first thinking awards might lead to greater readership. I still don’t know if it does. What I do know is that it feels good, and I’m grateful for the pats on the back—whether it meant more sales or not.


Priscilla Priscilla said...

I do think some authors deservedly get nominated over and over again which kicks others who deserve recognition off the nomination lists. Perhaps there should be a way of acknowledging those so worthy that they are nominated so many times but would mean that they aren’t listed anymore? A special award after five (or whatever number) nominations?

Terry said...

I've always thought authors who are awarded again and again should consider withdrawing themselves from consideration. There are some that I suspect already do that. But honestly, I don't fault them. It's a thrill and they've worked hard for it.

Vinnie said...

First, I never nominate a book I haven't read. (I believe that there are people who do.) Secondly, I must think the book is somewhere between a solid read and great.

Often my reading for the year is not broad enough to nominate more than one or two titles. That brings me to the point that if I read the book, I most likely follow the author. This tendency among readers could partly account for why we see the same names keep popping up for awards.

However, another reason I read a book is that someone I know wrote it. If I like it, I'll put the title forward.