Tonight’s guest blog post, on the topic of awards and prizes is brought to you by Catherine Astolfo.
Just recently (April 19 in fact), I was thrilled to hear my name read out as a finalist for the Short Story category of a major award in my country. Crime Writers of Canada (CWC) presents awards for excellence in mystery writing, named after Canada’s first hangman, Arthur Ellis. The Arthur Ellis Awards have acknowledged distinction in Canadian crime writing for 29 years. They draw readers’ and critics’ attention to excellent work in the field. A good friend of mine says the main honor for her would be that a jury of peers has judged your writing and found it commendable. I wasn’t able to articulate what it meant for me. I think I was still in shock.
Grateful, humbled, excited and happy are the emotions I felt, and still feel, as the award ceremony (May 31) approaches. I began to think about awards in general, probably as a distraction from obsessing over decision day.
A few years ago, a team commissioned by CWC applied for a grant to research awards in terms of their impact. Loosely, the question was: does being nominated for / winning an award make a positive difference to the shortlisted / winner’s writing career? Unfortunately, the grant application was unsuccessful. Therefore we have very little hard data here in Canada, at least for our genre of crime writing.
In honor of distraction, therefore, I conducted some very unscientific searches on the Internet. It has kept me busy, but of course no one would write a thesis based on the results.
Around the world, it appears there are mixed reviews on the after-effects. In the United States, The National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize have been proven to cause very significant jumps in sales. There are many examples on the web of authors and publishers who have acquired financial success and fame (or more of those) by winning these awards.
Lots of news media and publishers report that the prestige of the award and the cash prize (if there is one) are outweighed by the drive upwards in sales. The Man Booker Prize (from the UK) seems to pretty much guarantee that its winner will gain worldwide readership along with the resultant dramatic increase in book sales.
The Independent Book Publisher Awards (IPBA), in their paper, Using Book Awards to Boost Your Book Sales, states that awards boost credibility, buzz, and garner more reviews and interviews. “The fact is, award stickers help to convince buyers to purchase,” said Jim Cox, Midwest Book Review, in a quote for the treatise. He cites librarians as an example of a large group influenced by awards. There’s an approval factor involved. The Saskatoon Book Awards in Canada mentions increased publicity, readership, and sales as benefits.
In New Zealand, George Walker, a publisher for Reed and Penguin, is more neutral about the impact of winning awards. I read an article in which he said, “Sometimes it does [increase sales], sometimes it doesn’t; you have to ask ‘has the book the potential to be a large seller?’” By bestseller he means, does it have mass appeal? How long has it been around before the award? I interpreted his stance this way: there are lots of other factors that might influence the impact on the sales numbers.
I was aware before my little search that there are huge differences in the prestige and cash prize amounts all over the world. But then I began to wonder. Does the cash prize amount affect the status of the award? Is that a chicken and egg question? Or is it irrelevant?
I did a very quick survey of the prizes involved. The National Book Award gives $10,000 US to the winner. So does the Pulitzer (except in the journalism category). The Man Booker Award gets the winner sixty thousand pounds (over $96,000 for us Canucks). The grandparent of all, the Nobel Prize, grants over a million and a half Canadian bucks, The Dublin (Ireland) Literary Awards $139,000, our Writers’ Trust Award (for non-fiction) $60,000 and our Scotiabank Giller prize is worth $50,000. In the latter case, one study I found actually did research and proved that the “Giller effect” does, in fact, increase sales in a very lucrative way for the Canadian authors who’d won it.
In the mystery genre, the Edgar, Hammet and Nero Wolfe Awards provide no cash, but they have a significant amount of caché nonetheless. The Crime Writers Association of Britain gives away fifty thousand pounds. The Arthur Ellis Awards do give some cash prizes, but the amounts are fairly small.
Unfortunately, I haven’t seen any studies that investigate whether or not there is a correlation between the amount of the cash prize and its impact on book sales. Have you? Or maybe it’s only my warped mind, thinking there might be a relationship. Does money equal status and vice versa or not? Does status therefore equate to book sales (and circle back to money again)? Or, as George Walker says, there are too many other factors to consider.
So there must be other reasons to give awards. Canada’s Parliamentary Committee on the Book Publishing Industry a few years ago stated that: “…the arts may for many represent a profound fusion of needs for belonging, affection and self-expression.” If that’s true, then winning an award meets those needs at a very high level, I would think. Even being nominated for one would do it. The IPBA gives “it feels good” as one of the main reasons for being thrilled at winning or being a finalist for an award.
I’d love to know if there are any others out there looking for distraction. Have you discovered any research on the impact of awards on a writing career? Any correlation with the amount of the prize? Have you won an award? How did it reflect on your own book sales? Or did you care: the feelings of honor and “they like me, they really like me” being enough?
My wins have been really small (double figures) but thrilling and something for the CV. As you say it’s proof that someone who means something likes my work. 🙂 Thank you, Catherine!
Catherine Astolfo retired from education to pursue her true passion: writing. She self-published a novel series, The Emily Taylor Mysteries, that revolved around an unusual heroine—the principal of an elementary school. In her late forties, Emily Taylor becomes a reluctant sleuth through a variety of external events. Some of her decisions, however, are based on a fear of discovery, for she has a mysterious past that involves her husband. Readers do not find out the details of this past life until Book 4.
In 2011, Catherine acquired a four-book contract from Imajin Books for the e-versions and paperbacks of the series. Her short stories have won the Bony Pete and she is an Arthur Ellis Award nominee in that category.
Catherine was the 2010-11 President of Crime Writers of Canada and is a member of Sisters in Crime Toronto. Check her out at www.catherineastolfo.com.
Discovering the murdered body of her caretaker horrifies Principal Emily Taylor and resurrects memories of times and places she would rather forget. The school is closed for the summer. But have the authorities played into the hands of a murderer?
Victim is the second novel.
The inexplicable disappearance of two well-known women, the resurrection of an ancient legend, and the violence linked to a disputed land claim, all combine to terrify and unnerve the villagers of sleepy Burchill. School Principal Emily Taylor, while battling her own secret demons, must unravel both myth and truth before there is more bloodshed.
Legacy, the third in the series, dark memories from the past and long buried secrets surround seemingly unconnected families. As each individual searches for answers, they learn that it is only through community and love that they can overcome the ramifications of evil.
Seventh Fire reveals Emily and her husband’s dark past.
If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please”.
The blog interviews return as normal tomorrow morning with speculative fiction author Danika Dinsmore – the three hundred and seventy-first of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.
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Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) 🙂 on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are weekly episodes, usually released Monday mornings UK time, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.