In the writing world, contest season has begun. Publishers and authors are completing entry forms and submitting entry fees and shipping off copies of entered books. Following the entry period comes the judging period, then the announcement of finalists and nominees, followed by the announcement of award winners.
For this writer, the contest/award season is a conflicting time. So much so that last year I took a contest sabbatical, and I confess that I rather enjoyed paying no attention to this aspect within the writing communities.
I have been honored to win (and to be a finalist for) numerous awards over the course of my thirty-plus year career. Truly and deeply honored. I don’t want to give the impression that I feel otherwise. But I also wonder what the awards mean in the overall scheme of things.
Book awards are established, for the most part, by organizations who want to help increase reader awareness of an author or a particular book. But those very same awards can also increase frustration or anxiety in a writer and/or, at its worst, cause envy or jealousy. Over my long career, I have witnessed some rather unpleasant behavior as a result of contests. Thankfully I haven’t seen it often but still…
So I am forced to ask:
- Do book awards achieve the desired result?
- Do they make readers more aware of a particular book (and its author) and cause them to buy that book if they wouldn’t have bought it otherwise?
- If readers see an award mentioned on a cover or somewhere on the Internet, does it cause them to take a chance on an author they haven’t read before, whether or not they like the book’s description?
- How many readers know what the RITA Award is? The Christy Award? The ECPA Christian Book Awards? The Carol Award?
- Do readers care what organization gives an award?
- Do readers care what the judging criteria is?
Regarding that last bullet point, some awards are not judged but are given based upon sales in stores. Others are given to books submitted only by publishers and thus they are only judged against a limited number of books that the publishers choose to promote, not every book they have published in any given year. One contest may be judged by readers who are not writers and another by other authors (their peers). Another may be judged by booksellers and librarians, the people who may be influenced to order books into stores and libraries.
I have one writer friend who thinks this kind of competition among authors, especially among Christian authors, is unhealthy. I have another who believes awards are important and that they do, indeed, improve visibility of our books. I actually see both of their perspectives.
Which is one reason why the contest/award season leaves me conflicted, as mentioned in my opening paragraph.
If you have answers to any or all of my bullet point questions, I would love to hear them.