Monday, January 18, 2010

Book Judging & Book Awards

I’m more than a little curious to hear what you folks have to say on today’s topic: Crime Fiction Awards. What do they mean?

As you likely know, there are all sorts of awards for writing, from the “high-brow” awards for capital “L” literature, such as the Man Booker, National Book Award, PEN Award, Pulitzer, and so on. Then, of course, there are several genre-specific awards, for everything from romance, to western, to sci-fi.

For crime and mystery fiction there are several honours, including:

• The Edgar Awards, given by Mystery Writers of America
• The Hammett Prize, given by The International Association of Crime Writers
• The Dagger Awards, given by The Crime Writers’ Association
• There’s also The Anthony, The Agatha, The Nero, The Shamus, The Macavity; plus awards for sub-genres, such as cozy, thriller, romantic suspense, and on and on.

The first thing I wonder about is what these awards mean to readers, including book retailers and librarians. Do people make a point of watching for the announcements of shortlists and winners? Will an award prompt you to try a new author and/or a type of mystery you may not normally read? If you are a bookseller or librarian, do you routinely stock up on award winners?

Part of my curiosity stems from the fact that there are just so many books to choose from, and there is so much information out there about which books to curl up with (reviews in newspapers, and on Amazon, various blogs, Good Reads, etc.). With all these resources – all of which are accessible and immediate – why wait for an annual award...?

However, the above is only part of the reason for my curiosity. I have many more direct reasons for thinking out loud about crime fiction (and other) awards.

I am an author member of Crime Writers of Canada (CWC). Like other mystery fiction organizations, Crime Writers of Canada offers an annual award for excellence in crime writing. The awards are called the Arthur Ellis Awards (the pseudonym for Canada’s official hangman!)

The Arthur Ellis Awards (AE) are given in seven categories, including Best Novel, Best Debut Novel, Best Young Adult and so on.

Each category has three judges. The judges read each of the submissions for their category, and then they must come up with a shortlist for what they consider to be the five best books in their category. They must then choose one winner from the shortlist. There’s a party in early April to announce the shortlists, and then in June the winners are announced at the AE Awards dinner.

Like other writers’ organizations, CWC is a non-profit; much of their funding comes from membership dues. And, like several writing awards, the AE awards involve recognition, prestige, publicity... but not much in the way of cold hard cash, sigh... There are expenses involved in running the awards, though, not the least of which is shipping and delivery of all these books to all the different judges (who could be in any part of Canada).

Now here’s what you probably don’t know: many book awards and book contests have an entry fee, which is usually paid by the publisher when they submit your book(s).

I can understand that entry fees offset administration and other charges, and I suppose that charging a fee would ensure (to some extent) that only serious submissions are entered.

The fee to enter the AE is $35 (plus three copies of the book). Other mystery awards have no fee, and other literary awards (Stephen Leacock Awards) charge up to $100 to enter (plus TEN copies of the book or books).

The AE submission fee of $35 has created a bit of a stir among Canadian crime writers. Some feel this fee is too high (the fee was only $25 last year), especially when added to the cost of sending copies of the books.

So, what do you folks think of this? Should book awards have an entry fee? If you were an author and your publisher was unwilling to pay the fee, would you pay it yourself? And what about self-published authors? They don’t have a publisher who may (or may not) foot the bill.

Finally, do you think winning an award makes that much of a difference in overall sales?

I look forward to reading your comments!


  1. I read one book because it had won an award, and I was curious about what sort of books win awards like that. The Stephen Leacock awards usually catch my attention because I've read Leacock and like him, so I respect the award in his name. Otherwise, I usually just read books that friends or family recommend or that look interesting to me.

    As for entry fees... well, I haven't entered a contest lately that I've had to pay for because I haven't the money to do that. If I had a published book... well, winning is more publicity so maybe it would be worth it as a markety expense. I'd have to feel pretty sure that I had a chance at winning, though, to fork out the money (and maybe the money is to make authors think twice about whether their book is good enough).

  2. i think it makes alittle difference in total sales... i think winning any award is a good thing.
    but i don't think because one doesn't win one means their book wasn't worth it, just it might be over looked...

  3. I think when I see an award listed for a book, I'm more interested in reading it. Maybe I'm just saying that because I'm hoping for an Agatha!

    Entry fees...I dunno. Seems like these conferences should make enough from all the fees they have for attending that an entry fee wouldn't be necessary.

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