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June 14, 2010

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Graham

You left of the Derringer Awards.

But seriously, to me only the Edgar and the Shamus are really important, and the latter won't have much appeal for those who aren't fans of private eye fiction. In fact I think the various genre-specific awards that are handed out mean more than the general purpose awards.

Most of these awards, I actually have no idea how they're selected or what they mean. No disrespect intended, but how do I tell the difference between and Anthony and a Barry? And I read crime fiction all the time.

Cine Cynic

Here, here! Until I happened upon your blog I didn't even know of the awards handed out by associations other than MWA and CWA. Whether or not small awards continue to crop up, it does make a lot of sense for some big associations to come together and have one big awards.

I had a feeling that awards are mostly to attract people to conferences and workshops. Though I haven't attended one such, and don't see a chance in the near future, it will be a pity if stopping the awards brings down the attendance.

Sheila Connolly

Interesting perspective. You didn't mention the Agatha, awarded at the annual Malice Domestic conference. Nominations are submitted by prior-year attendees, which may amount to no more than 400 people, assuming everyone responds. Votes are submitted only by those who actually attend. So the winner may have garnered no more than 80 votes (from, as you say, self-selected voters who love the traditional genre), if the votes are evenly split, yet they may add "Agatha Award winner!" to their book covers in perpetuity.

Bookstore browsers will see "award winner" without knowing anything about the award, but it may have an impact on sales.

The concept of a wide-open award competition is interesting, but I'd worry that the big-publisher, big-name thriller types would drown out the small-press genre books, due solely to numbers rather than quality of the book.

I.J.Parker

Amen to most of that. Juried awards at least make sure that the votes pertain to books that have been read (or skimmed). Fan awards tend to rely heavily on whatever the fans happened to read, leaving out the vast majority of books. At Bouchercon, you overhear fans informing others, who are unfamiliar with the nominees, which books to vote for. None of the selection processes is totally nonpartisan. Even the prestigious Edgars have been alleged to be influenced by committees focused on political agendas.
On the other hand, as book reviews disappear from newspapers, most authors have nothing left to hope for except an awards nomination. Their publishers are certainly not doing anything to promote them.

Patti Abbott

I think in an era where authors/publishers are desperate to bring attention to books, more prizes might make sense because more books get a bit of attention. If you can put a nomination or winning of a prize on the cover, it may draw readers. On the other hand, is there anyone even searching for books in bookstores anymore? And half of what I search for isn't there. A terrible time.

Sandra Ruttan

The problem I see with your proposal is that it would require a larger community agreement at work, which doesn't exist outside of the organizations. Beyond that, why should MWA have the first kick at the can, as opposed to ITW or anyone else? Not that I'm on a side. There wasn't much that got me excited about the nomination lists either of those organizations produced this year. (A few titles were of interest, but overall they didn't interest me.)

And after judging for one of them, I'm not at all convinced by the process, and I was left with serious concerns that have permanently cast doubt on how the nomination list is compiled.

The Derringers? They are the most insular of all the awards out there, and it's quite common for the winner to be determined by less than a few dozen votes. You can't even get a sizable percentage of the membership interested in voting for them, not to mention there's limited promotional value. As an SMFS member, it's a pain in the butt to even get to read the stories, because you have to register and be approved for a second group, and it requires a serious mind shift for a group that's built on being a listserve, not a forum, when you have to go to the site to get access.

The reality is, all of these organizations are insular in terms of how they judge and who judges. The Spinetingler Awards are truly open to the public, although unlike the Theakston prize we aren't given out at a festival and don't enjoy publicity from bookstores. The Theakston prize fully attempts to reach the reading public at large.

However, I think that speaks to cultural differences. There seems to be more respect for authors in the UK, and the fiction produced is treated more seriously than it is in the US. A generalization, but I think a fair one. If the culture doesn't take the books seriously, how can they ever treat awards for the books seriously?

What's really needed in the US is a sponsor, such as the one for the Daggers, that puts serious money behind the award. Money talks, and people treat that seriously, if nothing else. It earns coverage in other sources. However, it's up to MWA or ITW or whoever to pursue such options and try to take their awards to the next level. I don't think anyone outside of an organization can achieve that. I don't see how a collective of smaller publications can achieve what the organizations can't.

David J. Montgomery

There are way too many awards given out in the mystery/thriller genre, to the point that they have become virtually meaningless. Nobody even pays attention to them except for the people who get nominated. (And not even them sometimes.) That's why we discontinued the Gumshoe Awards.

There should be one professional award (like the Edgars, although even they are way too incestuous) and one fan award (like the Anthony Awards, only open up the voting to everyone). Anything more than that is just adding noise to the cacophony.

Note, I'm not saying it's BAD to have all these other awards. If people want to give them out, they should do it and enjoy themselves. I just don't think there's any point in it.

Kent Morgan

I guess I am one person who pays attention to the award nominees. At various times I have subscribed to Deadly Pleasures, Mystery Readers Journal and the no longer published Mystery News so I was aware of the nomination process. While I would never purchse a book just because it was on a list, and that goes for the Edgar, CWA and Shamus awards, the short lists often alerted me to books, which I would track down to see if the content interested me. As for the Anthonys, not so much despite a writer I enjoy such as William Kent Krueger winning several times. Just last week I came across a first edition of Sean Chercover's first novel, Big City, Bad Blood, at a church sale and bought it because I remembered it had been nominated for an award. On checking, I was surprised to learn that it won four first novel awards and was nominated for a couple of others. I wonder if that helped sales.

Brian Lindenmuth

I think we need more awards. Awards are like celebrations for books and we should have MORE celebrations!

If your award gets lost in the shuffle and no one pays attention then that’s on you not the system.

If you are a critic, reader, reviewer, book blogger whatever and you create a best of list at the end of the year then congrats – you have an award. Even if you call it something else like “favorites” then it’s still an award.

And you know what? You should.

Because not everything should be the best or a favorite. You should take a look at what you’ve read and choose. Choose the ones that rocked your world and separate them from the ones that you can’t even remember.

The coin of the new realm isn’t who won, it’s exposure baby. So if you can do something extra to push the books that you think deserve more attention then you should. Otherwise you are a bump on a log.

Sarah is right – and I’ve been saying as much for years -- to a large extent it is an echo chamber. Imagine if the big awards took a good sized chunk of money and used it to buy co-op with the major retailers so that the winners would have their books end-capped and table-topped. I bet they would see a bump in sales then.

Those that can’t do something tangible like that at least owe it to themselves and everyone else to be as transparent as possible and to make the process as easy as possible to participate in. Be loud be proud and if I sound like some sort of community organizer then I can live that.


I.J.Parker

Chercover's BIG CITY, BAD BLOOD won the Shamus. I know, because I was on that committee. It richly deserved to win. And for that matter, I've found the Shamus judging to be totally fair. No politics involved at all.

Frank Price

Not only do I disagree with the comments you made on your blog I find your comments to be incomplete.

You place the value of the award on the size of the magazine's and newspaper's subscription and not even on the number of those who voted or the judgment of those who voted. Since you use the expression, "from what I understand," to measure the circulation of each magazine, your ability to measure comes in to question. The on-line presence of these magazines does not count by your method of gathering data. You throw away the long tradition of awarding authors by your simple statement "When it comes right down to it, what difference does it make if an author wins a Barry or a Macavity..." It matters to authors and publishers and to fans, but it is no guarantee it will boost book sales.

Just for trivial knowledge. can you name what these three people have in common? Adolfo Esquivel, Sean McBride and Albert Lutuli. That is correct. Each of them was picked by a committee of fewer than 10 people for an award, which is considered by some to be far more important that an Edgar.

Magazines and newspapers are print media. They are not different How many L.A. Times judges there are has nothing to do with the hard copy circulation of the L.A. Times, which like all newspapers is facing a massive hard copy decline in its readership influence and importance. Magazines and newspapers have an online presence which you have discounted.

The same question should also be asked, what is the value of any award, newspaper or magazine?

The total number of fans who vote for the Anthony awards is related to those who are members of Bouchercon because they have paid for the right to be there. It is no more sacrosanct than any other award. An Edgar is decided by the judgment of five people for each award. So does this make it more valuable?

Your editorial thinking needs to be rethought and rewritten to reflect reality.

Janet Rudolph

I disagree with most of your post today. No big surprise.

FYI, the Macavity has been awarded for 24 years. It is not a new 'fan/reader' award, and it was started when there were few if any fan awards. As far as the circulation of Mystery Readers Journal, our numbers jumped with the availability of MRJ as a .pdf download. Our online presence had made a difference.

I think you should ask some authors how they feel about winning 'fan/reader' awards. The ones I've talked to have said it has made a big difference.

I've chaired an Edgar committee in the past, and basically the award was chosen by 5 opinionated people.

We need to be looking at every way we can to celebrate reading and writing. Awards is just one way. Bring them on.

Charles Ardai

As a writer, I feel grateful for any evidence that someone enjoys or appreciates my work, whether it's a fan letter or a good review or an award, however big or small. As a publisher, I'm grateful when any of our authors is nominated for or wins an award. As a reader, though, I admit to feeling a bit overwhelmed by the sheer number of awards, especially to the extent that the lists of nominees overlap. When I see the same books nominated for Anthony, Barry, Macavity, etc., I can't be surprised -- presumably these are some of the best books that were published last year, so why shouldn't different sets of judges/voters single them out? -- but I do find that it adds to my feeling of the awards being superfluous or unnecessary. The Anthony, Barry, and Macavity Award voters all liked Megan's BURY ME DEEP? That's terrific -- so did I, it's a beautiful book, and she deserves all the attention and acclaim she might get for it. But as a reader, is it useful for me to see it repeated on list after list? A little, I suppose; the repetition might drive home the message, "You really ought to read this book." But I'd be lying if I didn't say that a big part of my response is fatigue. Three noms for THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE, three for A BAD DAY FOR SORRY, two for TOWER, two for THE BRUTAL TELLING, two for Hard Case's own QUARRY IN THE MIDDLE. Am I glad we got two nominations for QUARRY? Yes! Does it deserve them. Yes! I'd be proud to be nominated for any of these awards myself. But as a reader -- a devoted, serious reader who cares a lot about this genre -- I see the sheer number of awards and the often duplicative lists and I do have some feeling of, "Enough already; how many of these things do we need?"

Sarah

Thanks for all the great comments so far, and hope there will be more! Not surprisingly, Charles sums up what I said more succinctly and from more angles than I ever could, and Janet, while we will disagree with the body of the piece, this statement of yours is universal: "We need to be looking at every way we can to celebrate reading and writing."

And as a follow-up, there are obvious cons when an award is funded in a significant manner, such as when Duncan Lawrie funded the Daggers for a few years before the economy tanked. During that time, when a Gold Dagger winner got 20,000 pounds, the awards certainly made people sit up and take notice (and debate more profusely, perhaps...) but when the sponsor pulls out, then what? Does that devalue the award? If Theakstons decides they don't want to sponsor the Crime Novel of the Year award, does it make it less valuable?

Ultimately this discussion is really about, like a lot of conversations in a lot of different quarters are about, authority and trust. The multiplicative effect makes for a lot of lively debates, but the risk is that the overall worth may be reduced.

Laura Lippman

I'd like to defend all awards -- juried, fan-based, the soon-to-be announced "Lippy," which will go to the book in which I leave the most peanut butter smears, which indicates how feverishly I gripped the pages at breakfast each morning.

Seriously, writing is a lonely business and just being nominated for an award is a lovely thing for writers. I don't think many writers expect a boost in sales no matter what the prize is, but it's nice to feel as if someone has clapped you on the back and said "Attaboy!" (Or, "Attagirl!") I have served on three Edgar committees, attended every Bouchercon from 1996-2008 and almost as many Malice Domestic conventions. For the record, I have NEVER heard anyone at a convention tell someone else how to vote and I fear for the person who tries it. The fans I know are thoughtful and they try to read all the nominated books. Writers and publishing types -- well, that voting tends to be a little more strategic, if you will. Hey, I've voted for myself knowing full well that I didn't write the best book. I have served on three Edgar committees and bias/opinion is not only inevitable but desirable in my opinion. Yet the judging, in my experience, has never been personal or political.

All Sarah is doing here is opening up a discussion as to whether an award can lengthen the genre's reach the way some other literary prizes do, such as the Pulitzer and the National Book Award have done recently. Yes, her post is provocative, but I think it's provocative in the best sense of the word. Can an award extend our genre's reach? If so, what will it take? I don't think a single prize in the North American crime-writing field can claim to do what the Pulitzer did for Tinkers. And maybe no prize can. But if we all love crime fiction (yes!), this is a valid discussion. I agree with Janet: Awards are just one way. I agree with Brian: Be loud and proud.

I've been fortunate to win awards for my work. (And lose even more!) I cherish every one. As a writer, I'd hate to see a single award discontinued because I know the little glow an award can bring, and writers need that kind of encouragement. Sarah is, in fact, asking the question, What is the value of any award? It's a good question, asked by someone who really loves our genre. And this is the beginning of a good discussion.

Meanwhile, submissions to the Lippy are always open. Next year, we might add a new category: Book that received an A+ rating despite the handicap of being read on a Kindle, where the sameness of font/appearance tends to dull down all but the best work. Right now, it's a neck-and-neck tie between DARK PLACES and BLAME.

Morley Swingle

Barbara D'Amato sent me an email last week contratulating me for being nominated for a Barry Award for my short story "Hard Blows." I was tickled to death to be nominated, although as someone still fairly new to the mystery-writing field, I admit resorting to Google to find out more about the award. After discovering that the finalists were selected by a Committee of people who knew a thing or two about a good mystery, I was even more pleased to be nominated.

Along came Sarah's post the next day. I enjoy "Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind" and read it every week. The Mind in Question sort of rained on my parade. Nevertheless, Sarah's column did not completely dimish the glow of being a finalist or curtail my self-congratulatory emails to friends, relatives and the local newspaper.

Thank you Janet Rudolph and Laura Lippman for expressing so well the reasons to have these different awards. Your comments put the fun back in being nominated!

Laura, I am going to my first Bouchercon in October. I will bring peanut butter.

Kristymontee

Late to the table, as usual! This is a worthy topic that bears revisiting periodically.

My comments as a writer (who has won the Shamus, Anthony and ITW Thriller and was nominated for an Edgar): It was an absolute thrill each time, not because I thought it was going to magically boost sales but because it is just so great to be recognized (esp by your writing peers) after laboring in a dark cave by yourself for a year with the psychotic thought that it will all end tomorrow. (okay, I labor with my sister in the dark cave so I'm not as lonely as some of you out there but sometimes we just feed on each other's fears.) That said, I can tell you that awards ARE used by ediors, agents and sales forces to prime the pump.

As a reader: I have used awards as a method of sorting through the titles much in the way I use the opinions of critics who I trust. But I recognize that most readers don't seem to know what the awards are (I always ask this question at signings and maybe a third know what the Edgar is). And as Sarah points out, the larger mass market audience (Costco, Walmart, et al) knows even less than those of our readers who are more focused and intensely tuned in to our genre.

As a judge: I can't speak for all contests, but I know that the times I was involved (ITW and Shamus), we took the process extremely seriously. It was hard to get through hundreds of entries. It was even harder to narrow things down once the cream rose.

As for the "Lippy" I nominate "Mr. Peanut" by Adam Ross.

P.J. Parrish

Monique Flasch

I have been enjoying the discussion on the awards topic. I work in a library - and I love mystery award winners and nominations. They are great tools to help me make sure I have all those titles. Sometimes titles fall through the cracks - especially for best first book.

And as book pusher/promoter etc, sometimes it is easier to give a patron a book that was an award winner or nominee. They will take a chance on it.

Quite frankly, mystery award winners circulate a lot more than other literary award winners do!

Monique Flasch

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