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November 27, 2007

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Jim Winter

I wouldn't have so much trouble with the new guidelines if there wasn't so much blatant hysteria behind them. (Sounds like both sides of the fanfic debate.) And Charles Ardai's exclusion is just monumentally absurd.

Levi Stahl

That's too bad, since Songs of Innocence was one of the best crime novels I read this year.

David J. Montgomery

No matter what criteria you set, you're going to eliminate some number of books -- and that opens up the possibility that you will eliminate books of merit.

It seems to me that the question isn't whether or not Ardai's book is any good. (I think Charles is a fine writer.) It's whether or not the criteria are reasonable.

They strike me as being a good set of rules, even if they inevitably exclude a handful of good books.

Lee Goldberg

You wrote: "But LITTLE GIRL LOST is ineligible because it runs afoul of current interpretations as set forth by MWA"

I think you mean SONGS OF INNOCENCE.

LITTLE GIRL LOST was eligible then, and would be now, because it was originally published by Five Star, not Hard Case Crime, which did the paperback reprint.

Your quote from me, while accurate, doesn't do much to explain our decision. So here is the entire response I gave to your question:
-----------------
Sarah,

The decision on SONGS OF INNOCENCE was not a reflection of our "new active membership status rules." The rule about self-published books being ineligible for Edgar consideration has been in effect for several years and is clearly stated on our website. (LITTLE GIRL LOST, for example, was originally published by Five Star before the Hard Case Crime paperback reprint or it would not have been eligible). Our guidelines state:

>

Charles Ardai obviously has a considerable financial interest in Hard Case Crime. Not only is he the founder and te publisher, he is also the primary editor. He has said so in countless published interviews. In fact, he states it outright on the copyright page of SONGS OF INNOCENCE (which I've attached). The page states that the book was published in collaboration with Winterfall, LLC, which is his company. It also definitively states that "Hard Case Crime books are selected and edited by Charles Ardai," who is also the author of the book. On the Hard Case Crime webpage, it states:"Hard Case Crime was created by Charles Ardai and Max Phillips; the line is published as a collaboration between Winterfall LLC and Dorchester Publishing."

No one is saying or implying that Hard Case Crime is a vanity press. It is a respected and legitimate publisher that I, and all the members of Edgar Ad-Hoc Committee, admire. However, as unfair as it may seem to Charles, his book unquestionably meets our definition of a self-published title under the rules we adopted in 2006....which is why the committee unanimously voted that it is ineligible for Edgar consideration. If the book had been published by another publisher, like St. Martins or Penguin for example, it would have been eligible.

This decision is no reflection whatsoever on the quality of the book, which many of us on the committee have read and enjoyed. In fact, the point of our guidelines is to assure that decisions about Edgar eligibility are made regardless of a work's perceived quality (or lack thereof) or the popularity (or lack thereof) of the author.

If we allow Charles' book to be considered for an Edgar, then we would have to accept *all* self-published titles for consideration, otherwise we would guilty of blatant favoritism. Charles has my respect and my sympathy but the MWA is not prepared at this time to accept self-published titles simply to allow SONGS OF INNOCENCE to be considered for an Edgar.

If you have any more questions, please let me know.

Lee

I.J.Parker

It seems to me that the choice lies in the hands of the authors. If inclusion in the Edgars matters to them, then they should not self-publish those works they wish submitted for judging.

ed

Whatever the intentions, in effect, Lee, you ARE suggesting that Hard Case Crime is a vanity press by holding them up to this draconian standard. As a professional critic who frequently receives all manner of self-published dreck in the mail, I can understand the efforts to filter out the wheat from the chaff -- a process as readily applied to the books from "legitimate" publishers. To prohibit self-published titles from the Edgars is tantamount to telling Walt Whitman, L. Frank Baum, Alexander Dumas, Thomas Hardy and James Joyce (and that's just off the top of my head) to go fuck themselves. It does emerging talent a disservice. And when applied to venerable figures like Charles Ardai, who you fail to note also has a vested LITERARY interest in what he publishes, it demonstrates that the MWA is about as flexible to publishing realities as a humorless schoolmarm's ruler.

This is the kind of disastrous enforcement of the law that I expect from staid government officials, not an organization that is -- I quote from the MWA's About page -- dedicated to "promoting higher regard for crime writing and recognition and respect for those who write within the genre." I guess that the "recognition and respect" only applies to those writers who don't fall within these prohibitive austerity.

Charles Ardai

I appreciate your covering this issue, Sarah -- I think the discussion of MWA's decision is healthy for the organization, whatever the outcome.

Also, for the record, I want everyone to know that I am not trying to change MWA's mind about its decision. As I've told Lee, I consider the matter closed. MWA is free to establish any rules it wishes for its awards, and to enforce them in any way it wishes.

But for the benefit of all authors (not just my own benefit), I would prefer that the organization establish better rather than worse rules and enforce them in more rather than less sensible ways. And I question the value of this particular rule and the suitability of its enforcement in this particular case.

I understand completely why self-published books (however you might define "self published") shouldn't be accepted as qualification for becoming an active member of MWA; if they were, anyone could buy himself an active membership for the cost of a self-publishing contract, because membership applications are not evaluated for quality by a panel of judges. But submissions for the Edgar Awards *are* evaluated for quality -- so there is no danger of someone "buying himself" an Edgar Award.

Given that there is no danger of a bad self-published title winning an Edgar, the question I'd pose is what benefit there is to the organization from categorically banning self-published titles from consideration for the award. Yes, I suppose it saves the judges some time, but only a modest amount; I've been an Edgar judge myself, we did receive some self-published submissions at the time (this was back in '98, before the new rule), and it took precious little time to determine that a bad self-published book was nowhere near award caliber and set it aside. Similarly, it took precious little time to determine that a bad *non*-self-published book was nowhere near award caliber, and in fact most submissions from legitimate publishers fell into this category. This left a small handful of really exceptional books to read carefully and consider seriously, and if that handful had been expanded by one or two really exceptional self-published books I -- speaking then as an Edgar judge and now as an active MWA member for half my life -- would have been delighted to discover and consider them. If you can find a diamond in a coal heap, isn't that a good thing? Why should a judge be forced to ignore the diamond simply because it's surrounded by such a vast quantity of coal?

I can't help the feeling that the reason for banning all self-published titles from consideration has less to do with a rational decision to save the judges' time or to prevent some hypothetical risk of a bad book somehow winning the Edgar than with a knee-jerk emotional reaction spurred by a sense that self-published books are not just generally of poor quality (which is true) but somehow inherently inferior, contemptible, and in some way threatening to the established order. I can't prove that this feeling is correct -- and Lee can tell us it's not if he believes it's not -- but as I say, I can't help having that feeling. And it's not a feeling I like. That's not the sort of attitude I'd be proud for an organization of which I am a member to hold. There are bad self-published books and (very rarely) excellent ones; there are bad non-self-published books and (not quite as rarely, but still pretty rarely) excellent ones; and I believe the purpose of the Edgar Awards should be to recognize excellence in the field of crime writing, period -- not to establish artificial barriers that result in judges being forbidden to recognize some works in spite of their merit.

As for the application of the "no self-published books" rule in this particular case, I'd only point out that the relationship between Dorchester Publishing and my company, Winterfall LLC, is not anything like the relationship between an author who goes to iUniverse or Lulu and such enterprises. Dorchester is a legitimate and respected publisher which pays advances and royalties in the customary fashion; never charges any author any amount of money for printing, distribution, sales, marketing, or anything else; prints tens of thousands of copies of each book and distributes them to hundreds (possibly more than a thousand, I'm not sure) retail stores; and in every way carries out its business in the manner of a conventional publishing company. And everything I just described is as true of every Hard Case Crime book Dorchester publishes as it is for the other 200+ titles they publish under other imprints each year. Similarly, it was as true for SONGS OF INNOCENCE as for every other Hard Case Crime title. I never paid (and my company never paid), one penny to Dorchester (or anyone else) for publishing, marketing or distributing this book; Dorchester paid an advance and once the book has earned out will pay royalties; Dorchester even has approval rights over every book I select for the line, which means that I am not free to just publish whatever I want (and they reviewed and approved SONGS OF INNOCENCE prior to publication in exactly the same way they review and approve all our other titles). And for the record, I don't own any piece of Dorchester Publishing, am not employed by Dorchester Publishing, am not related to anyone at Dorchester Publishing, and have no financial interest in Dorchester Publishing. Dorchester is simply one of the dozen or so publishers to whom I pitched my series of books back in 2003; they made an offer and I accepted it, as any author might.

It would be foolish, of course, for me to argue that I am not, in the public's eye, the "publisher" of Hard Case Crime (and the editor of the line and the face and voice of the line -- I'm proud to play these roles). But I think there is a clear and meaningful difference between the facts of this case and the case of someone who goes to iUniverse and pays $1000 to print up 100 copies of his book, which then sit in his closet unless he takes it on himself to peddle them to bookstores or give them to friends and family. Lee talks about being accused of favoritism if MWA were to allow this book to be the only "self-published" book to be eligible -- but what of the opposite complaint, given that it is (I believe) the only book to be published by a publisher on MWA's approved list, in the conventional advance-and-royalties fashion, with the author paying no part of printing or distribution or sales/marketing costs, to be deemed *ineligible*?

Why does this matter to anyone other than me? Sarah correctly identified the similarity between my relationship with Dorchester (author of one original novel in a series of novels I sold them) and the relationship the editor of an anthology has to his or her publisher (if he or she has written one of the stories in the book and solicited, chosen, purchased, and edited the rest). Is it fair that all the stories Sarah lists be banned from consideration for the Edgar? I say no. But based on what Lee has told me in the course of our discussions, they will be. (And if they're not, then I *really* don't understand how MWA can justify deeming SONGS OF INNOCENCE ineligible, since it's no more "self published" than those stories are.)

My recommendation (and I apologize to one and all for taking so long to arrive at it) is simple: Let the Edgar judges do what they're chosen to do -- judge. Look at the entire range of material published in the genre over the course of the year and pick the examples they feel are the most accomplished and meritorious. Any rule that forces a judge to say, "I loved this story, it's the best one I read all year, but I'm prevented from giving it the award it deserves because of this rule that says I can't" is a bad rule and deserves to be changed.

All that being said, I want to make it clear that I am not saying I think SONGS OF INNOCENCE deserved to win the Edgar -- I'm only saying that it deserved to be considered. If I were on the panel myself, I'd be voting for Megan Abbott's QUEENPIN.

dick adler

If I were an actual dues-paying MWA member, I'd resign in a minute. SONGS OF INNOCENCE is one of the five best mysteries of 2007.

JDRhoades

David: can any rule that "inevitably excludes good books" be a "good rule"?

David J. Montgomery

But won't any rule exclude some books? And if you're excluding something, you're accepting the possibility that you're excluding something good.

Maybe the way to go is to be totally inclusive. But that seems like going too far in the other direction. It would be strange to accept the possibility of having an Edgar winner for Best Novel whose author wasn't eligible to join the MWA.

Charles Ardai

> It would be strange to accept
> the possibility of having an
> Edgar winner for Best Novel
> whose author wasn't eligible
> to join the MWA.

I don't see why, given that being a member of MWA is not a requirement for the Edgar.

And of course that possibility would be meaningless in the case of an author who already was a member of the MWA.

For example, let's say that Lawrence Block or Donald Westlake decided to self-publish his next book, for whatever reason. And let's imagine that it was an outstanding book. What good reason could there possibly be for saying that that book, written not only by an MWA member but by an MWA grandmaster and 3- or 4-time Edgar winner, should not be eligible for the Edgar? I'm not saying that MWA doesn't have the right to establish such a rule -- but what possible purpose could it serve? Or to think about it another way, if it's necessary to have a rule at all, shouldn't it be possible to design one that doesn't needlessly and clumsily rule out cases most reasonable people would agree it's absurd to rule out?

JDRhoades

"if you're excluding something, you're accepting the possibility that you're excluding something good."

But when the rule makes it, as you put it, "inevitable" then maybe the rule needs tweaking.

Jon Jordan

I don't understand the logic of Anthology editors not being able to be nominated. They do work for hire basically for the publisher and are not an owner or employee of the publisher.
Since they are not th epublisher they are not self publishing, so all those stories would in fact be allowed.

Charles Ardai

I can't speak for MWA, of course, but my understanding is that any editor who is seen as having selected his or her own material to be published is deemed to be "self publishing," and that this a) applies to short stories as well as to novels and b) doesn't distinguish between cases where the editor is employed by the publishing company and cases where he or she merely has a contractual relationship with the publishing company. (By way of example, Lee responded to some thought experiments I posed by stating that "If Otto Penzler wrote a book of his own and published it under his imprint at Harcourt, it would be ineligible for Edgar consideration" and "If the editor of Ellery Queen published her own short stories in the magazine, they would be ineligible for Edgar consideration." The editor of Ellery Queen is employed by the company that publishes Ellery Queen; Otto Penzler is not employed by Harcourt, he merely (I believe) has a contractual relationship with them, much as I do with Dorchester, and much as an anthologist does with the company that publishes his or her anthology.)

I agree with you that it's wrong for an anthology editor to be disqualified because she published her own story, but then I also feel it's wrong for a magazine editor to be disqualified for the same reason, or for the editor of an imprint (whether Otto, me, or someone else, and whether acting as employee or independent "packager") to be disqualified for that reason. The work is what it is and should be judged on merit alone. Unfortunately, that is not the position MWA is taking. The key element in MWA's analysis, as far as I can tell, appears to be whether the author of a work and the person who selects the work for publication (and edits it, etc.) is the same person -- and in the case of an anthologist choosing to publish his or her own story, the answer is yes.

Lee Goldberg

Speaking only for myself, and not the MWA, I think Sarah's suggestions would turn the Edgars into a popularity contest. In her view, whoever gets the best reviews, or is the genre darling of the moment, deserves special attention...others don't.

Charles' hypothetical example about Block or Westlake self-publishing, and why he believes it would be wrong for those titles not to be eligible, only underscores my point. A turn in that direction would, I believe, be a mistake for the MWA and the Edgars.

The only reason Sarah is peeved about this situation is because Charles is a remarkably talented, award-winning writer and a highly respected publisher. If we were talking about someone else -- a writer with a book from PublishAmerica -- this wouldn't be an issue for her.

Personally, I think the MWA rule is a good one. I don't think we should allow self-published books to be eligible for Edgar consideration. The fact that the self-published rule applies equally to Charles Ardai as it does to someone less well-known and well-reviewed speaks to the inherent fairness and objectivity of the rule. We have created a level playing field. All self-published authors are treated the same, whether they are poorly reviewed or former Edgar-winners, complete unknowns or highly respected.

Contrary to Charles, I don't think there is anything "needlessly clumsy" about the rules at all. They are straight-forward and clear. To anyone reading those rules, Charles' obviously meets the MWA's definition of a self-published author.

If his book was published by St. Martin's or Random House, instead of under his own imprint, we wouldn't be having this conversation. But he chose not to do that. For whatever reason, he chose to publish it through his own company. My guess -- and it's purely that -- would be so he could exercise more control over how his novel was packaged and marketed. And, I assume, out of pride in his work and in his imprint. To say that his book is not self-published because he didn't go to iUniverse or lulu, or doesn't own Dorchester, is disingenuous.

Should the MWA consider every mystery or crime novel that's published in the U.S., regardless of how it was published?

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences doesn't allow every single movie released in the U.S. to be eligible and considered for Oscars...nor should they. The MWA doesn't consider every single mystery novel published for Edgars, either. Nor do I believe they should.

I'm sure there are lots of Oscar-quality movies that are being over-looked because they don't meet the Academy's criteria, which I'm sure some people think are draconian and unfair. Like the Academy, the MWA has criteria. Not including self-published work is one of them. It's inevitable that some good books, like Charles Ardai's, will not be considered. I don't blame him for being hurt and angry, but that said, I don't think this indicates any a flaw in our rules.

Lee

Lee Goldberg

Jon,

You are correct and I was mistaken in the emails I traded with Sarah on the subject. The anthologies you are talking about are guest-edited which is very different than, say, if you decided to include a story of your own in a Crimespree anthology. Your story would be ineligible. The same would apply to, say, Janet Hutchings if she put together an EQMM anthology and included a story of her own.

Historically, since the self-pubbed rule went into effect in 2006, those stories by guest editors in anthologies like the ones Sarah mentions have always been eligible because the writers did not work for the company in any capacity. They were invited to create the edition. It’s the same as the MWA anthologies, where the publications committee and the board choose the guest editors and they in turn, pick 10 people and the rest are by blind submission. The editors are hired with the expectation that they will also provide a story. They are hired as writer and editor. They don't have any connection to the publishing company unlike, say, Charles Ardai, who is editor, publisher and co-owner of the imprint that published his book.

Lee

Charles Ardai

Thanks for the clarifications, Lee -- I find them helpful, and I'm sure others will as well. For what it's worth, though, I think that the fact that clarifications are needed is an indication that the rules are not, in fact, "straightforward and clear." Of course, to be fair, rules always tend to be clearer in the minds of the people who come up with them than in the minds of the people who are subject to them.

Note also that a rule can be objective and even-handed but still a bad rule -- pointing out that I and Donald Westlake and Lawrence Block could all equally be denied recognition no matter how good the books we write is a pretty perverse way of demonstrating "fairness."

And saying (here I paraphrase) "The only reason Sarah is upset is because we declared a good book ineligible; if we'd declared a bad one ineligible she wouldn't mind," is a bit like saying "The only reason people called our trial a miscarriage of justice is because we jailed an innocent man; if we'd jailed a guilty one, this wouldn't be an issue for them."

Lee Goldberg

Charles,

Speaking for myself and not the MWA, I agree with you that the rule needs some clarification in regards to how it applies to editors of short story anthologies. But I don't think there's any lack of clarity as to how the rule applies to publishers and authors like you.

The rule state, in part:

"Among (but not all of) the situations defined as "self-published or cooperatively published" are [...] those published by privately held publishing companies with whom the writer has a familial or personal relationship beyond simply author and publisher; those published by companies or imprints that do not publish other authors; those published by publishing companies in which the writer has a financial interest"

You created Hard Case Crime with Max Phillips.
You are the editor and publisher of Hard Case Crime.
You select and edit the books published by Hard Case Crime.
You publish the books, through your company Winterfall LLC, "in collaboration with Dorchester."
You wrote a book.
You edited and published your book through Hard Case Crime, a company you created, own, and manage.

Given those undisputed facts, I think it's clear to anyone reading our rules that you meet the MWA's definition of a self-published author. I know you to be a very smart man, so I believe it's just as clear to you as well. We may disagree about whether or not the rule is necessary, but it's hardly "clumsy" or confusing in regards to how it applies to you and your book.

On a seperate note, I find it revealing that you immediately assume that the book in my hypothetic situation sucks because it came from PublishAmerica or Lulu.

What I wrote was:

"The only reason Sarah is peeved about this situation is because Charles is a remarkably talented, award-winning writer and a highly respected publisher. If we were talking about someone else -- a writer with a book from PublishAmerica -- this wouldn't be an issue for her."

You interpreted that to mean:

"The only reason Sarah is upset is because we declared a good book ineligible; if we'd declared a bad one ineligible she wouldn't mind."

You will note that *I* didn't make any value judgment about the PublishAmerica book simply because it was from PublishAmerica. But you did.

I simply said that I believe that Sarah wouldn't be upset if we were talking about book being ruled ineligible if it was from a PublishAmerica author as opposed to you. I stand by that.

Her anger, and that of others here, isn't so much about our rule. It's about you, an admired author and respected publisher. They like you and your book. So do I.

They are upset that your book won't have a chance to compete for our genre's highest honor. I think it's a shame, too.

But your book doesn't meet the MWA's criteria for eligibility. There are some movies I really liked that I think deserve to be considered for an Oscar, but they don't meet the Academy's criteria. Those are the breaks. The self-publishing rule has been in effect since 2006. It's not a secret. My suggestion is that next time you write a book, submit the manuscript to a publishing company don't own and you won't have this problem ever again.

I think each of your posts, and the arguments in them, prove my point about the slippery slope we'd create if we allowed exceptions to our self-published rule.

The alternative you suggest, to allow books like yours in, is to scrap the self-published restriction altogether. We will have to agree to disagree on that point. I think the self-published rule is a good one for the MWA and for the Edgars.

Lee

Brian Thornton

I'm not only a proud member of MWA, I'm on the national board. And I have to say for the record that Lee Goldberg and I have disagreed frequently and publicly over any number of questions put to the national board during our mutual tenure on same.

However, he absolutely represents not just my take, but that of a solid majority of the national board with regard to this matter. Furthermore he has artfully and tactfully defended this position in the face of some pretty emotional criticism. I commend him for that.

I also join him in praising Charles Ardai for the many terrific things he's done in and for mystery publishing, including having the good sense to publish guys like Al Guthrie (talk about a no-brainer!), and giving so many classic works by authors such as Lawrence Block back to us. Personally, I just wish he'd shopped SONGS OF INNOCENCE to some other publisher so that the organization could, in good conscience, consider it.

Charles, I wish you continued success both with your own writing and in your helming of HCC. And I heartily agree with your comment about Megan Abbott.

All the Best-

Brian

tod goldberg

The Booker Prize wouldn't allow for Charles' book either, Sarah -- it says so in it's rules: "d. Self published books are not eligible where the author is the publisher or where a company which has been specifically setup to publish that book." (http://www.themanbookerprize.com/prize/about/rules-and-entry). Even by judges choice, it wouldn't qualify.

And while Lee clarified the point about the anthologies, I'm of the belief that if you include yourself in an anthology that you're editing, the right thing to do would be to not nominate yourself (though in the case of the Akashic books, I'd guess that the publisher nominated the works, though of course anyone can nominate themselves for an Edgar simply by filling out the form and sending it in...and in full disclosure, I'm in the upcoming Las Vegas Noir and expect that I'll be hoping to be nominated by somebody). I doubt the rules the MWA has set out will give any major publisher any pause at all in terms of anthologies because it's not as if an edgar winning story in an anthology suddenly makes the anthology skyrocket to the top of the bestseller lists. In fact, by the time the awards are given out, most of the books are already off the shelves. The edgar doesn't sell books retroactively as well as many of the major prizes, though it certainly helps with the next book.

But I think the biggest thing that has surprised me by this debate and continues to -- and of course I'm Lee's brother, so I'm used to being surprised by the debates he's in -- is how few traditionally published authors have complained about this exclusion of self-published works, apart from the book Charles published. It's true that Charles is in an odd and particular position -- and really, who knows if his book would have been a finalist anyway? it's a presumption that is hard to take in light of many curious picks over the years -- but then what about every single other author who founds his own press who is in the same boat but who doesn't have the reputation Charles has? i don't see people standing up and announcing they'd renounce their mythical mwa memberships because Brian Rouff, a fine crime writer I know in Las Vegas who has self-published three of his own books on his own press isn't eligible. You make a special case for one person because you like his work, you have to make that case for everyone or else you risk turning the Edgars into one of those convention awards given out to the author who bought the most drinks at the bar.

Sarah

Thanks for the clarifications, Lee - and for the record, while Ardai's situation is what got my attention, I was more concerned on the anthology front, which struck me as more a blanket case that needed further addressing.

But here's another hypothetical: in the music industry we're starting to see so-called "360" deals where the artist cedes control of all facets of his or her album/merch/touring to one company. If such a situation were to be feasible on the books front, would that pose a problem under current MWA rules?

ed

The Booker Prize also won't allow for Dave Eggers's WHAT IS THE WHAT -- in which the author was also the publisher. But that didn't stop the National Book Critics Circle from nominating it last year for Best Fiction.

Gerald So

As I'm not an MWA member, I won't go into whether the self-published rule is good or bad, but no one can deny that rules are necessary and that any rule excludes some cases.

As an outsider, it seems to me one of the issues the organization is tackling is the appearance of impropriety. Reading the self-published rule as outlined by Lee, it does appear to apply to Charles. As Charles wrote, he is the public face of Hard Case Crime as well as the editor of the line.

Like many others here, I enjoyed SONGS OF INNOCENCE. Whatever its rules, there will always be questions as to whether an organization is recognizing the true best of a field. At least in Charles's case I'm gratified the MWA recognized his writing talent with his Edgar win for "The Home Front".

Richard S. Wheeler

This has been a thoughtful and valuable discussion. I wish to add this cautionary comment. Western Writers of America, once a solidly professional guild almost as old as MWA, is now largely unmoored from American publishing, and its Spur Award winners are not even noted by the trade journals. What happened? Years ago, WWA began skirting its own bylaws regarding professional qualifications for membership, and the result is a largely amateur organization best described as a western hobbyist society. That is the slippery slope that MWA needs to avoid at all costs, in all ways, at all times.

JDRhoades

Stating that the rule would exclude Charles Ardai's book begs the question of whether the rule *as written* is reasonable. So does the argument that "if you don't like the rule, follow it next time."
Pointing out that other organizations also exclude good books or movies begs the question of whether their rules are reasonable as well.
It's not necessary to accept "all self published books for consideration" to mitigate the unfairness here. All it would take would be an acknowledgment that there is a difference between someone who pays a third party to publish their book through PublishAmerica or some outfit like that and someone like Charles Ardai who founded their own company, publishes other authors, and who has written a book that that company publishes as well. Troy Cook's company would be eligible under this rule as well, so long as it published more than must Cook's work. Once you got over the hurdle of eligibility, of course, the books would still have to be considered on their merits.

Charles Ardai is an innovator. He didn't see the books he liked being published by the big houses, so he went out and made his own publishing company to publish the books he wanted to read and wanted others to read. More importantly, he made a success of it. The old punk rocker in me can't help but be impressed by the DIY spirit of that. We need more diversity in publishing. More and more publishing decisions are being consolidated into the hands of fewer and fewer people, and that is not a good thing for any of us. New, small outfits like Hard Case and Bleak House are one way to break the jam.

I just hate to see Charles' excellent work penalized because he's published by a company that everyone acknowledges puts out great work, but which he founded, so "tough beans, Charlie. You're a vanity publisher as far as we're concerned."

Again, there is a distinction between that type of publishing and PublishAmerica or whatever. It's an easy distinction to make, and the MWA is excluding excellent work by lumping Ardai and people like him in with the POD crowd. I submit that a rule that excludes excellent work from Award consideration is a rule that needs to be re-examined.

And yes, I'm an MWA member. My only "agenda" is recognition of good books.

Sandra Ruttan

And in the music business there's no shame in artists starting up their own record labels and being nominated for all the same awards.

I think the Edgars have a significantly higher profile than most other crime fiction awards in the US, and as a result when changes are made to the process there is going to be more debate and interest in those changes and the reasoning behind them. I'm not a member - I'm not American - so I know only what's spilled over to the public domain, but I have to say that I am convinced the fact that these discussions take place is a good thing.

In fact, it's crucial, in order to make sure that important awards maintain a level of integrity and respect. The very worst thing for the Edgar would not be to have (oh my God, horror of horrors) a supposedly self-published author nominated for an award, but to have the general public have no respect for the awards because of a questionable process.

In this particular case, I don't think it's fair to say Charles should have shopped the book around. Hard Case Crime is a publisher with a very specific focus, and it stands out in the field because of what it does. It's why bestselling authors have written for HCC, no doubt taking a considerable pay cut, but being published by HCC is prestigious. It is the only case cited to me where readers buy the books based on the publisher, not the author of the book. My ex is a subscriber and every month gets his new HCC book and it always goes to the top of his reading pile.

Charles says, "Given that there is no danger of a bad self-published title winning an Edgar, the question I'd pose is what benefit there is to the organization from categorically banning self-published titles from consideration for the award." I would second that. Is the award about the best books of the year, or about the best books of the year published by somebody we approve of? In this specific case, Charles has been clear: "I never paid (and my company never paid), one penny to Dorchester (or anyone else) for publishing, marketing or distributing this book; Dorchester paid an advance and once the book has earned out will pay royalties; Dorchester even has approval rights over every book I select for the line, which means that I am not free to just publish whatever I want (and they reviewed and approved SONGS OF INNOCENCE prior to publication in exactly the same way they review and approve all our other titles). And for the record, I don't own any piece of Dorchester Publishing, am not employed by Dorchester Publishing, am not related to anyone at Dorchester Publishing, and have no financial interest in Dorchester Publishing. Dorchester is simply one of the dozen or so publishers to whom I pitched my series of books back in 2003; they made an offer and I accepted it, as any author might."

That is not self-published as far as I'm concerned (and I count myself proud to be with Dorchester and thus a publishing cousin to HCC). Dorchester has final approval over the books, and they pay the advances. If anything, Charles is simply self-edited.

While I believe debate and discussion is healthy for ensuring awards maintain integrity (consider the discussion about eliminating translated works from consideration for the top Dagger Award... and the result of bringing in a translated work category, which may or may not have been in the works prior to the original decision but became crucial in the wake of the first announcement) there does reach a point where the discussions will be harmful. Simply defending a position in light of examples that show why the process is perhaps flawed isn't acting in the best interests of the organization or the authors it represents. The question is whether or not there is a way to address the regulations in order to make sure valid works don't slip through the cracks on technicalities.

If the rules were simply about saving time for the judges, then it would be simple: Limit nominations to the publishers. Each publisher/imprint can nominate 10% of the crime fiction titles it produced in the appropriate calendar year. If the publisher is MWA approved, they get to do it for free, and if they aren't MWA approved charge them a flat rate for entering, regardless of the number of books they're eligible to submit. Make it $500 and not so many of those vanity presses or self-published authors will be able to afford it.

Am I serious? Not exactly. But this isn't just about saving time for the judges. It should be about ensuring the award recognizes the very best books published in any given year. A higher standard than, say, is applied to the Gumshoes or the Spinetingler Awards or the Barry Awards? Yes. But if the MWA wants the Edgar to be the most coveted prize in the community that's the price they have to pay.

All of which goes to say that the answer to Sarah's question, in my opinion, is yes. If SOI doesn't prove the point, certainly the anthology issues do.

Charles Ardai

Guys,

At the risk of prolonging a discussion that has probably approached the limits of its usefulness (since the positions have all been staked out fairly well, I think), I would just point out the following:

1) "You are the editor and publisher of Hard Case Crime." Presuming the conclusion is not a sound form of argumentation. I am the editor of Hard Case Crime (subject to Dorchester's review and approval of my choices); given the facts I've presented, I think it's at least open to dispute whether or not my company is the books' "publisher." That depends on what you mean when you say "publisher," and I think everyone -- even you, Lee -- would agree that Hard Case Crime's situation is at least unusual (in the literal sense of there not being many other cases like it). Maybe being the editor of the line in this way is sufficient for ineligibility, maybe it's not -- but the assertion "you are the publisher" is one of the things we disagree about. There may not be any way to resolve that disagreement, and there's certainly no need to -- but the disagreement exists, and your statement suggests it does not.

2) "You publish the books, through your company Winterfall LLC, 'in collaboration with Dorchester'." You picked up this line from our book's copyright page, but you reversed it -- it does not say that Hard Case Crime books are "Published by Winterfall LLC in collaboration with Dorchester Publishing," it says that they are "Published by Dorchester Publishing in collaboration with Winterfall LLC." Those sentences may sound interchangeable, but they're not. Dorchester is a book publisher, by the customary definition anyone might use; if you look into the actual facts of what Winterfall does and doesn't do, Winterfall is not. (Useful test: If Dorchester did everything it does and nothing else, would books ever get published? Answer: yes. If Winterfall did everything it does and nothing else, would books ever get published? Answer: no.) In the case of Hard Case Crime, all the functions normally performed by a publishing company are handled solely by Dorchester, except for two (editorial and art) and even those are 100% paid for by Dorchester and operate under Dorchester's review and approval. Again, you and I can (and do, and probably always will) disagree about whether those facts are enough to lead one to conclude that Dorchester is the "publisher" in this case and Winterfall is not -- but they are the facts, and they are what makes this case unusual and the right decision less than obvious.

3) Tod writes: "The Booker Prize wouldn't allow for Charles' book either, Sarah -- it says so in it's rules: 'd. Self published books are not eligible where the author is the publisher or where a company which has been specifically setup to publish that book.' Even by judges choice, it wouldn't qualify." Clearly Hard Case Crime wasn't specifically set up to publish this book (it's our 33rd book); and whether or not the author is the publisher is a matter of some dispute as noted above. MWA has made its decision on the matter, and that decision is final and has been accepted as such -- but that doesn't mean I think it's a correct decision. Each reader of this discussion can form his or her own opinion.

4) Tod writes: "really, who knows if his book would have been a finalist anyway? it's a presumption that is hard to take" and I agree completely: I do not in any way presume that, had it been deemed eligible, it would have been a finalist. It may well not have been. And if it had been considered and simply not found to be one of the five best titles of the year in its category, that would have been completely fine. No one would ever have heard a peep from me. It's being denied the opportunity to be *considered* that seems needless and inappropriate to me.

5) Tod writes: "You make a special case for one person because you like his work, you have to make that case for everyone" and again we agree -- there is no way it could possibly be fair to make a special case for one person. I would never seek, and if offered the opportunity would never tolerate or accept, special treatment that enabled a book of mine to be deemed eligible while a book by another author in a comparable situation were deemed ineligible. It just comes down to a question of what situations are and aren't comparable. By way of example, I quote from MWA's last newsletter: "The Edgar Award is the most prestigious award in the crime writing field. As such, it is limited to authors who were paid for their work and published by the professional publishing companies on MWA's Approved Publishers list." I realize that that's not intended as an exhaustive list of criteria, but just looking at that sentence, I note that SONGS OF INNOCENCE was published by a professional publishing company on MWA's Approved Publishers list and that publisher (Dorchester, a company whose purse strings I don't control any more than I control Random House's) paid the author for his work. It seems to me that if you take the list of books about which those two statements are true and decide that one of those books -- and only one -- will not be eligible, you *are* making a "special case for one person," only in a negative rather than a positive way.

6) Richard Wheeler writes: "Years ago, WWA began skirting its own bylaws regarding professional qualifications for membership, and the result is a largely amateur organization best described as a western hobbyist society. That is the slippery slope that MWA needs to avoid at all costs, in all ways, at all times." I agree wholeheartedly, and if you reread my first post, you'll see I said this: not allowing self-published works to qualify an author for active membership makes perfect sense, since there's no element of judging for quality in the process of vetting applications for membership. But there is (obviously) an element of vetting works for quality in judging the Edgars. So the risk you describe doesn't exist in the Edgar context. And there's no inherent reason the qualifications for Edgar eligibility and the qualifications for membership have to be the same.

7) Lee writes: "The alternative you suggest, to allow books like yours in, is to scrap the self-published restriction altogether. We will have to agree to disagree on that point. I think the self-published rule is a good one for the MWA and for the Edgars." This is actually the nub of the matter for me: No one has yet stated, anywhere in this discussion, *why* the self-published rule is a good one for the MWA and for the Edgars. (Wheeler's point isn't relevant because it has to do with membership eligibility, not awards eligibility.) What is it about allowing self-published books to be considered for the Edgar that is anathema to you? If they're bad, they won't be nominated, so it can't be fear that a bad self-published book will somehow wind up nominated (you might as well be afraid that a bad *non*-self-published book will wind up nominated due to the author's popularity and drink-buying habits, something the current rules do nothing to prevent). Is the "value" to MWA of ruling out all self-published books really just about saving the judges' time? (If so, that implies the presumption that so few self-published books are good enough to merit consideration that any "false negatives" caused by the rule are an acceptable price to pay -- exactly the presumption you claimed I was making and you were not: "You will note that *I* didn't make any value judgment about the PublishAmerica book simply because it was from PublishAmerica. But you did." You're saying you like a rule that rejects all books from PublishAmerica -- if that's not because of your judgment of the quality of the books they publish, I can't imagine what the explanation for it could possibly be.)

Or is there some other reason -- other than saving the judges' time -- that it's "good for" MWA and the Edgars to ban all self-published books from consideration?

--Charles

David J. Montgomery

Having read over Charles' more extensive description of HCC's relationship with Dorchester -- and given that the latter must approve the books he selects for publication, pays the advances, etc. -- it seems less clear that HCC is the publisher of the books, rather than Dorchester. And if Dorchester is the publisher, SONGS should probably be eligible.

I'm curious if anyone has thought of any other examples of worthy books that have been excluded by these rules.

Gerald So

I agree, David. If Charles functions the way an anthology guest editor does, his work should be eligible just as a guest editor's story would be.

The PODler

The MWA is useful to the extent that it creates attention for work and this translates into sales. There is nothing preventing those who are unhappy with its rules to start their own organization to promote their work through awards. You can start the Independent Mystery Novel Association of America, and style yourself as a reaction against the Stalinists at the MWA. Come on, it's not that hard, or has the MWA totally brainwashed you?

Frankly, as a mystery reader, I don't actually know anything about the MWA, picking my books entirely on whether I am interested in their concept, whether I like the reviews that I find in newspapers or blogs. I think that MWA and other genre organizations are really antiquated and no longer relevant. Perhaps that is why such organizations are afraid of self publishing as if it were the devil.

Dave Zeltserman

Charles, a question--has Dorchester rejected any of the Hardcase books you've wanted to publish? If they have, then I think you have a good case for your relationship with them being more as a book packager similar to what Techno Books does for Five Star, and in that case your book should be eligible for Edgar consideration. If they haven't, then regardless of your contractual relationship with them, you really have to consider yourself the publisher and the book self published.

Taking your book out of the argument, I agree with what MWA is doing with these new rules and wouldn't have rejoined this past year if they hadn't made these changes. MWA needed to set standards as to what constitutes a work that they will consider for both membership eligibility and awards, and a list of approved publishers and eliminating self-published books gives membership credibility. Their rule for what constitutes self-publishing was needed--it's too easy today for anyone to self-publish under the guise of their own imprint.

Charles Ardai

> If Charles functions the way an
> anthology guest editor does, his
> work should be eligible just as
> a guest editor's story would be

It's not quite the same way a guest editor functions -- that would be the case if Dorchester had come to me and said "We have this idea for a new line of books, would you select and edit them for us?"

It's more akin to the way a writer with an idea for an anthology functions if he's pitching the project to a publisher (as, for instance, I imagine Jason Starr and Maggie Estep did when they pitched BLOODLINES to Vintage, or as Reed Coleman did when he pitched HARDBOILED BROOKLYN to Bleak House). I came up with the idea for Hard Case Crime; I could have put up the money and published the books myself, set up a distribution arrangement, and so on, but I chose not to; instead, I pitched the project to a dozen or so publishers, got an offer (exactly as an anthologist or author might: advance, royalties, Dorchester pays for everything, Dorchester produces and distributes the books, I pay for nothing, I split the money I get from Dorchester with the other authors contributing to the project...it really is almost exactly like an anthology, only an anthology of novels rather than an anthology of short stories), accepted the offer, and proceeded with my anthologist-like role of choosing material, editing it, etc. I also wrote a "story of my own" for the anthology that is Hard Case Crime. The eligibility of that "story" for Edgar consideration is what's being discussed here.

I guess the question is whether Jason's and Maggie's stories in BLOODLINES would or would not be eligible for the Edgar if that book were published today. If so, my contribution to Hard Case Crime would presumably be eligible by the same reasoning. (It's all an academic discussion at this point, since MWA has made its decision and I have accepted it -- but it is a worthwhile academic discussion, since it may have an impact on other authors in future years.)

Richard S. Wheeler

Mr. Ardai, your response is gracious and thoughtful. I do need to tell you that WWA's amateurized membership greatly affects its Spur Award selections. Award juries consisting of
people minimally involved in literature, and relatively uninformed about it, have eroded the caliber of the awards, as you would discover if you explored this year's Spur winners. So yes, membership and awards are intimately tied together, and the relaxation of one set of standards guarantees the relaxation of the other standards.

Charles Ardai

> Charles, a question--has Dorchester
> rejected any of the Hardcase books
> you've wanted to publish?

Yes. Without going into too many details (to avoid embarrassing a well-known writer), it happened just the other week when I proposed a book and Dorchester said they didn't want to do it. Of course, I have a good working relationship with the folks at Dorchester so it was a cordial conversation rather than a desk-pounding argument, but the bottom line was that I submitted the book and told them I wanted to publish it and they said no. In the end I could see and appreciate their reasons for saying no, but they're the ones with the final say, and even if I hadn't seen or appreciated the reasons I couldn't have forced them to publish the book. And though it hasn't happened often, this is not the only time they've rejected a book I've proposed. (They have also occasionally rejected cover art I've proposed. They really do have the final say on what they publish.)

> If they have, then I think you have a
> good case for your relationship with
> them being more as a book packager
> similar to what Techno Books does for
> Five Star

That's right: My relationship with them is essentially the same as what Tekno Books does for Five Star. My company is a book packaging company, not a publisher. Now, maybe MWA wants to rule out books written by people affiliated with book packagers, too, not just ones written by people affiliated with publishers. Again, that's their right. But let's call it what it is. SONGS OF INNOCENCE is not a self-published book, it's at most a self-packaged or self-edited book (just as Jason's and Maggie's stories in BLOODLINES could be described as self-packaged and self-edited).

> a list of approved publishers and
> eliminating self-published books
> gives membership credibility

Agreed: It gives *membership* credibility. It doesn't give the *Edgars* credibility. The Edgar judges would not nominate any books they didn't feel were up to the highest standards of professionalism and quality regardless of what publisher a given book came from. A bad book from Random House would not get nominated; a great book from a tiny publisher would. If there is a great self-published book, how does recognizing that book's greatness in any way diminish the MWA's credibility? If anything, I'd think it would be an indication of how broad MWA's reach is and proof that the Edgars aren't an "insiders only" club.

Charles Ardai

Richard Wheeler writes:

> I do need to tell you that WWA's amateurized
> membership greatly affects its Spur Award
> selections. Award juries consisting of people
> minimally involved in literature, and
> relatively uninformed about it, have eroded
> the caliber of the awards... So yes,
> membership and awards are intimately tied
> together, and the relaxation of one set of
> standards guarantees the relaxation of the
> other standards.

Yes, of course if you relax the *membership* standards the quality of the award judging will suffer -- that makes perfect sense. But I am not proposing relaxing the *membership* standards (and no one else is, either). I'm proposing that MWA retain the very high membership standards it currently has and then allow those highly professional members to exercise their excellent, well-informed, professional judgment to identify, without restriction, what the best work published in the genre was this year.

Your statement that "the relaxation of one set of standards guarantees the relaxation of the other standards" is only true in one direction. (To prove the truth of this, consider the opposite direction -- surely you're not saying that relaxing the standards for the Edgars by allowing the judges to consider self-published work would "guarantee" that the membership eligibility requirements would also be relaxed, or would somehow *cause* the membership requirements to be relaxed. That would make no sense.)

Gerald So

Charles wrote:

>

I see, Charles, and agree your work should have been eligible if Jason's and Maggie's and Reed's stories would be eligible in the cases of the anthos they pitched.

Maxim Jakubowski

A fascinating debate.
Might I point out that speaking of the Booker Prize (as I'm a Brit), the Dave Eggers book would not be eligible purely because it's by an American author, and the Booker only considers authors born in the UK or Commonwealth.
Another technicality: as Charles is not sole owner of Winterfall, he is therefore a shareholder in the company and the MWA rule would then imply that the ownership of shares in a company who publish you make your books ineligible for consideration. A bit rough on you if you are a canny investor and own even a single share in Bertelsmann (Random House), Hachette (Little, Brown) or Holzbrinck (St Martin's Press), for example.
By the same consideration, T.S. Eliot, who was both an employee and shareholder in Faber & Faber would have been disqualified from any awards with the same rules had his work been in the crime field.
I think there is a clear distinction between vanity publishing and mainstream publishing, and MWA should acknowledge the fact and not be so categorical about this exclusion (and I say that as an editor who does sometimes include a story of his own in his collections, and actually does own some shares in various companies involved in publishing)...

Maxim

Dave Zeltserman

>> Agreed: It gives *membership* credibility. It doesn't give
>> the *Edgars* credibility.

Charles, what the MWA is trying to do is create a baseline over what constitutes a professionally published mystery novel, and I think that's important for both eligibility for MWA membership as well as awards. This helps everyone--authors, reviewers, bookstores and readers.

That said, it's clear that Hardcase's role with Dorchester is as a book packager and not as a subsidy of Dorchester, and since final editorial decisions are being made by Dorchester editors, your book should not be considered self-published by MWA's stated rules. To claim that you have a financial stake with Dorchester as opposed to your book packaging company (Hardcase) is hair splitting at best. Lee and the MWA should reconsider eligibility for your book.

Charles Ardai

Hi, Maxim. You raise an interesting point -- but I am, in fact, the sole owner of Winterfall LLC. I am neither the sole owner nor the partial owner (nor an owner in any other respect whatsoever) of Dorchester Publishing.

But yes, I could imagine a strict reading of the MWA's rules (and they do seem to be in the mood for strict readings these days) ruling out any author who owns shares in their publisher. Clearly not what was intended when the rule was first created, but then I suspect making a Hard Case Crime book ineligible was not what was intended either.

Charles Ardai

> Lee and the MWA should reconsider
> eligibility for your book.

Alas, even if Lee and the MWA could be persuaded to agree with you (something I doubt, based on their response to date) now that the situation has had so much publicity it really wouldn't be possible for the judges to consider the book cleanly. If they considered it, liked it, and nominated it, they'd be accused (by some) of only having done so because they caved in to pressure. If they considered it, didn't like it, and chose not to nominate it, they'd be accused (by some) of having only given lip service to the book's eligibility but really having decided, behind closed doors, to give the book the bum's rush. Neither accusation would be true, of course, but neither would be disprovable and a cloud of suspicion would hang over the proceedings. For this reason, I am not asking MWA to reconsider its decision. I wish they had done so when I made all these same points to them privately (without even the judges being aware of it), but now that the matter is public, I don't see any way to rectify it. Like toothpaste and genies, this is one that's not going back into the bottle.

Graham

I'm at work right now, so let me propose an "action item" to "take away": If both sides could agree on a rule that makes vanity-press or self-published books ineligible for the Edgar, what would it look like?

I know that Mr. Ardai has already said that he thinks all books should be eligible and should be judged purely on merit, but many others have suggested a difference between vanity publishing and legitimate firms. So how would you draw a distinction between PublishAmerica and Hard Case Crime that would satisfy everyone?

JMH

I could care less that MWA excludes "self-published" authors. What I don't like, however, is when they proclaim that the reason for such a rule is to promote "professionalism," and "high standards," and keep out the riff-raff--meaning and implying that anyone who choses a self-published route is an inferior lifeform.

I'm "self-published" according to the MWA definition. It doesn't matter, though, because very few organizations outside the MWA demonstrate a prejudice against self-published authors. My books have been favorably reviewed by Library Journal, Booklist, ForeWord Magazine, Midwest Book Review, New Mystery Reader Magazine and dozens more. They are carried in Borders, BN, hundreds of library systems and often jump into the top 100 bestsellers at Amazon.

So, let the MWA have their rules. Whoever wins their contests, however, must do so with the knowledge that they did not have to compete against everyone, but only within a subset of working authors.

Charles Ardai

Distinguishing between Hard Case Crime and Publish America is trivially simple. For instance, you could just say that publishers that are on MWA's list of approved publishers are exempt from the "no self-published books" rule. That would take care of my writing a book for Hard Case Crime, Otto writing one for Harcourt, Johnny Temple writing one for Akashic, John Helfers writing one for Five Star, etc. It would not, however, address the issue of a first-rate author writing a first-rate book and genuinely self-publishing it as a one-off at his or her own expense (as, for instance, Lawrence Block did with his non-fiction title WRITE FOR YOUR LIFE). That could be addressed, perhaps, if you said that any book by an active member of MWA could be considered -- you couldn't *become* an active member by dint of publishing your own book, but if you became an active member in some other way, any books you happened to self-publish thereafter would be eligible for awards consideration. You could also impose a minimum-number-of-copies threshold, I suppose, to rule out cases where (for example) Block prints up just 5 copies of a book and hands them to his buddies as Christmas gifts; and maybe require that copies be available for sale in brick-and-mortar stores. I'm not saying any of these is a perfect answer, but it's not hard to think of variations on the theme, any of which would be better than what MWA has now.

JDRhoades

Excellent suggestions, Charles.

There seems to be an attitude among defenders of the current rule that if the rule is changed or tweaked in the slightest, then there will be no rules at all, the gates of civilization will collapse, and and the PODbarians will swarm through to steal our women and rape our cattle.

It's one thing to say "standards must be maintained." I think most of the folks here will cheerfully agree with that. The question is, does the current standard work to achieve its aim: ensuring that quality work is considered for the Edgars?

tod goldberg

It's a good question, JD. So: Can you think of any other titles apart from Charles'?

I don't really have a dog in this fight except simple interest (I'm not in the MWA. I'm not up for an Edgar. I don't really care about awards unless I've been nominated and then lost...)and that it gives me something to talk about with Lee over christmas when we want to exclude the rest of the family from our conversations, but I still contend that we're arguing over Charles' work because it's good and then just a bunch of hypothetical works that, hypothetically, probably won't be.

The PODler

Some of you raise the issue of merit and quality. Please, folks, let's be a little bit honest with yourself, if you can--mystery is not literature, it's genre, it will never be quality of any kind, ever, no matter how much you want that to be the case, no matter how many rules the MWA promulgates and how harsh it makes them. So please, stop talking about quality and standards. And if you don't understand that mystery is not literature but genre, then you don't know anything about literature and the entire discussion is worthless to begin with, which is perhaps why you argue so vehemently.

JDRhoades

Tod: Haven't read it, but I understand that Troy Cook's "self published" (as in published by the company he owns) books have gotten some good notices, including from Publisher's Weekly, Crimespree, and our hostess Ms. Weinman (who I invite to correct me if I'm wrong).

But is that really the point (particularly since the above is bound to be greeted with people insisting that PW doesn't matter, the poster didn't like Cook's book, none of the awards it won matter, etc etc)? If something's wrong, it's wrong, whether it affects one author today or dozens. And, as more people--like Charles--look to get around the hidebound nature of traditional publishing, the issue's going to come up again. How many people does it take to be unfairly excluded before it matters?

JDRhoades

"And if you don't understand that mystery is not literature but genre, then you don't know anything about literature"

I submit that you don't know anything about mystery.

Lee

Though I don't agree that genre and quality are mutually exclusive (Jonathan Lethem or Michael Chabon or Benjamin Black, anyone?) I too detect a certain dishonesty here. Those who have vested interest in the old power structures are crying 'cryteria' as a pretext. Frankly, I've had a look at one of Lee Goldberg's books. When he can write as well as Chabon - when he can write a tenth as well as Chabon - I'll pay attention to Goldberg's opinions. And 'his' awards.

Sandra Ruttan

PODler, that is an exceptionally narrow and judgmental view, and certainly not universally true. In my country works by Sean Chercover, PJ Parrish, Rick Mofina, James Patterson, Steven Torres, Cornelia Read, Lee Child, Tess Gerritsen, MJ Rose, Laura Lippman*, George Pelecanos*. JT Ellison, Toni McGee Causey and many, many others are not shelved in the mystery section - they're shelved under "fiction and literature" in chain bookstores. The police procedurals I have coming out next year will be shelved in fiction and literature as well - all Dorchester "thriller" titles are shelved in that section here, only Hard Case Crime titles are placed in "mystery" (which is really ironic, because HCC titles are crime novels, noir/hardboiled, but not mystery, which is actually a subgenre of crime fiction, but used as the primary title in NA mainly because it sounds nicer - the UK is correct in having a crime fiction section instead of a mystery section).

If we're discussing awards and not considering merit and quality, I submit: what the hell is the point of the award then? A popularity contest for endorsing approved authors under the guise of a serious examination of the writing based on merit, rather than the name on the cover? Because then it's on par with the Anthony Awards, just not open to the general public.

And perhaps the way to judge the awards is the way the Academy Awards do - narrow a shortlist of say, a dozen titles, then let the membership vote, place the top five on the ballot with the winner predetermined, or have a second round of voting. Oh, wait, then people could vote for books they haven't read... but if the award isn't about quality and merit why should it matter if the judges haven't read it?

I didn't realize Troy Cook was a part owner of Capital Crimes Press, but this comes from his website:
BOOK OF THE YEAR
ForeWord Magazine Finalist

ANTHONY AWARD Finalist
Best Paperback Original

MACAVITY AWARD Finalist
Best Debut Novel

WINNER, Allbooks Reviewer's Choice Award
for Best Mystery

A #1 "KILLER PICK"
by the
Independent Mystery Booksellers Assn.

LEFTY AWARD Finalist
for Best Humorous Mystery
WINNER, Silver Evvy Award for Best Novel by Colorado Ind. Publishers Association

RIO Award of Excellence Finalist
for Best Debut Novel

David G. Sasher Award Finalist
for Best Mystery

When a work can receive that much critical acclaim, it makes one wonder if the issue really is about quality. The same press publishes Robert Fate, amongst others, and Fate has also been nominated for a handful of awards.

I don't believe this is being discussed strictly because SOI is considered to have merit. I do think it's extremely presumptous to assume that any books that didn't get an advance of $1000, but only $900 instead, aren't as good. By that type of reasoning the higher the advance the more award nominations, and we certainly know the bottom line is not always connected to superior quality of writing and storytelling.

* works shelved in both sections

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