Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Book Awards - Precarious and Providential

The news this week came from the US National Book Awards - in the young adult section, the judges chose five books for the shortlist but somehow six were announced. At first it seemed that yes, an error had been made in the announcement but they would stick with it. Now they have taken one book off the list - Shine by Lauren Myracle - or should I say, Myracle apparently "withdrew the book from consideration". Who knows what went on behind the scenes, but Myracle has behaved most professionally in what must be a horrible situation, and no doubt it has earned her many new fans.

There's a saying that all publicity is good publicity, but with the internet these days, that's not always true. An author a few months ago who tried to defend herself against a bad review received a huge backlash. True, she defended with insults! But in this world where hundreds of new books are published every week, where self publishers are using the net and Amazon to get their books out there, for many readers awards remain one of the standard guides for what is a "good book".

This week also there was much outrage about the shortlist for the Man Booker prize. This is an award for a book that is considered to be the best of the best in literary fiction, and the critics are complaining that the books are too "popular". So apparently the criteria for this award includes "too literary to be readable and/or enjoyable", which is a pity. Regardless of that, the uproar will help sales because all those people who thought the Man Booker shortlist was too literary might now go and buy at least one of them and actually read them!

The quandary with awards is this - they attempt to choose the best in a given year. The shortlist they come up with is a mix of opinion and compromise (the more on the judging committee, the more compromise - this is fact borne out by experience!). But for most awards, this shortlist influences book sales to an immense degree. Here in Australia, if you are shortlisted for one of the Children's Book Council awards, your book is guaranteed an immediate reprint and at least 3000 extra sales (a lot here in Oz).

What are the repercussions of this? For a start, if you get shortlisted, you are very, very happy! If your book doesn't get shortlisted, however (and if you aren't Andy Griffiths or writing a current hot series), your book will very likely die within 12 months and probably not earn out its advance. So the argument that book awards unfairly promote some books at the expense of a lot of others is a valid one.

For children's books, the other option is the various children's choice awards. I'm going to put my foot in my mouth here and say I actually think these are worthless to the author and their book. I mean worthless in terms of sales. For a book to win a children's choice award, it needs to have been already bought/borrowed and read by lots and lots of kids, so if you win one, it means you and your book (because often it's the author who is winning on reputation for great books) are already out there in huge numbers. But they are great validations for you personally, because it does show kids read and love your books. How good is that?!

It's interesting to see some state awards here now include a People's Choice award that is voted for by readers. (I do wonder though about the publishers who email you and urge you to vote - oh well, it all counts.) So awards are providential. You never know when you might get shortlisted, and if you win, good gracious! How wonderful, especially if the prize money is nice. But you can't count on them either. You just have to write, and believe in what you write, and keep on writing.

1 comment:

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