Friday, November 8, 2013

How Awards Matter

This month's blog post is slightly related to my blog post in September about a possible YA Hugo Award. I'm back from attending the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton, UK, where, among the various discussion and book launch parties and award presentations there was a panel entitled "Do Awards Really Matter?" Panelists included Elizabeth Bear, Pat Cadigan, Ellen Datlow, Tricia Sullivan and Melanie Tem. (Neil Gaiman was also supposed to be on the panel, but he had to present a Life Achievement Award elsewhere at that time. Huh.)

The panel summary was "It seems that these days everybody and their dog are giving out awards on the basis of general popularity, being a member of a group, or decided by a panel of judges. But just how important is any award to a writer's career, and is it ever ethical to actively campaign for your own work?"

It was interesting to have a discussion of this topic at this convention, being that the convention had the meetings of two societies - The British Fantasy Society and the World Fantasy Board - and both societies' annual award ceremonies. What was odd, though, is that the panelists all mentioned that the awards they had won had not benefited them in any way that they had noticed (except for those awards that had money as part of the award). Awards to them were a matter of recognition of their work, that "someone is reading" as one panelist mentioned.

As someone who won awards as well (and granted, an EPPIE for Best Fantasy and a Dream Realm Award for Best Anthology is not in the same league as a Hugo or a Campbell or a Locus Award), I agree that the recognition is nice. But I do think the panel might have benefited from having either a small press author or a librarian to join in on the conversation. It struck me that someone from a traditional publishing house might be noticing only the short term and totally overlooking what those from small press have been encouraged to see as "Long Tail". One of the panelists did mention that there had been an small increase in sales of the book that had won the award, but it hadn't affected the sales of her other books. There was also a polling of the audience to see who among the audience paid attention to awards in regard to their book purchases (the answer, oddly enough at a convention where several awards were being given out, was very few. But this could be because people attending purchased books when they came out and not a year later when awards were announced).

As a librarian, one thing I've noticed over the years is that award winning books tend to stay in print. Of course, it depends on the award. Caldecott and Newbery Award winners and nominees are carried by public libraries, school libraries, and academic libraries (if the university in question has an education department and classes in children's literature). When I tried to replace books that had been damaged or stolen, I had problems replacing books that had been published more than a year ago. I never had any problems replacing Caldecott and Newbery award winners and nominees, however. Books published even fifty years ago are still in print, both because they were award winners and because people still wish to study them. When the English Department at my university developed a science fiction class (finally!), I found that Hugo Award winners are often still available, though the older ones are not republished as often as those which won awards for children's books. I have no information on how fantasy or horror award winners have done.

So, though some of these award winners are not noticing any benefits now, in the long run, they may. I only hope that some convention will re-examine that topic when they do. I've already noticed that some conventions ask in their participant questionnaires if the person has won any awards. But perhaps that's more for the benefit of the convention and their advertising.

What do you think about awards? Do you pay attention when purchasing a book? Do you nominate books for awards and root for particular authors?

1 comment:

  1. Interesting, Kathy. I do know that when I was teaching my classroom library contained mostly Newbery winners and honor books. We encouraged the students to read these. As for the smaller, less prestigious (Sp) awards, they don't seem to make a lot of difference in sales, at least in my case. I have a couple of novels that have won Gold and Silver in the Children's Literary Classics and an honorable mention in other awards. Somewhere I read recently, can't remember where, that stay away from these awards that you have to pay to enter. Obviously, they are not considered to be worth a lot. For me, however, having that sticker to put on my book and a certificate, makes me feel like someone enjoyed my writing. Maybe I just need a kind word now and then. I don't know. Yes, I do order books when I see one has won an award. I guess because I know how it feels to be ignored when you're floating on a cloud. You're there all alone, too often it seems to me. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. :)