It's awards season in the crime community -- that glorious time of year when people get to root for the nominees, cheer (or sneer) for the winners, and complain about the ignorance of the judges in leaving off our favorite books. (We also get to bitch about the books that were included. There's a reason they call our main conference "Bitchercon." We like to complain.)

The Edgars will be given away next month. ITW announced the shortlist for the Thriller Awards over the weekend. It'll be time to start the nominations for the Anthony Awards soon. And Mystery Ink just announced the nominees for the Gumshoe Awards today. (There are several others that I'm leaving out, including the Barry Awards, Agatha Awards, and more. But I got tired of finding links.)

I have mixed feelings about all of these awards. Yes, I say this even though I was responsible for creating the Gumshoe Awards, and was a judge for last year's Thriller Awards. On the positive side, I do believe they serve a purpose: they help bring attention to authors and books, a commodity that is always in short supply. They also, when done right, celebrate the excellence within our community, which I think is a good and rewarding thing.

But why are there so damn many of them? And do they ultimately mean anything? I've been told by people in the know that the only award that significantly impacts an author's career is the Edgar for Best Novel. Still, it does seem that even some of the smaller awards can help boost a writer's name-recognition, and help increase their stature within the community, and maybe even with their publisher. Whether or not they actually sell books...Well, that's a different matter.

Awards also, of course, stir up controversy, bitterness and resentment. Some people will be upset at the books that were or were not nominated. (Some people? Hell, all of us will be.) Others might resent the sexual or racial make-up of the authors selected. Some will complain that the nominated books were too commercial or too obscure, too esoteric or too common. And I can't help but think that even the most hard-boiled of mystery writers sometimes feels a stab of regret when he is passed over yet again.

There's also the whole question of selecting "the best" of all the books in any given year. Obviously, it's quite subjective and subject to the whims, predilections and prejudices of the judges. No matter which award we're talking about, we'll all be scratching our heads over some of the selections. (The thing is, though, that we'll be scratching our heads about different books. That's all just part of the fun.)

Still, despite the negatives, I do enjoy the awards. I'm always pleased when books that I loved are singled out, and enjoy the chance to have excellent books brought to my attention that I otherwise might have missed. I like seeing good people honored for the hard work they do. I like seeing people actually care about books.

If nothing else, awards get people talking about books and thinking about books, at least for a little while, and those are things we always need more of. For me, that's the most important reason to have awards. Even if there are too many of them.

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I agree with you, David. Creative writing is a subjective business. There will always be nominations I like and ones I don't, but people will be talking about books. I don't mind the number of awards that have cropped up if it means groups of people that weren't being represented before are being represented now. Readers may respect this award over that one, but that goes beck to the subjective nature of the business.
But DO they get "people" talking about books. Perhaps there is some industry interest, but isn't it usually amongst the writers themselves? On the other hand, on the dreaded Dorothy-L which consists mostly of readers and writers pulugging their wares, the readers say that they do notice if a book has won an award and are more apt to seek that one out---when they hear about it. Is it in their bookstore under award-winners? Does it have a nifty stamp on the cover like a Newberry Award winner? Because who is the buzz for? I have often heard that editors aren't particularly impressed by awards unless, as you say, it's the BIG one. Does anyone know how it affects sales? Are there numbers?

Of course on the other side, it's just keen to get an award, isn't it? I won an award for a short story I never even knew was entered (my magazine editor entered it) so that was a nice plus for me. No one else is much impressed as it isn't a BIG award .
nobody should ever feel bad about not being nominated for an award. that's what i came away with after judging a couple of things last year.

here's an example:

2 judges put together a top ten list. my top 3 aren't on his list. his top 3 aren't on my list. so we remove those six books and go to the books that are on both our lists. my favorite doesn't win; his favorite doesn't win. the more judges, the more you have to compromise. sometimes you go to bat for a book even if it's only on your list. so that book might make the long list if enough people agree that it has merit, but it probably won't make the short list.
The Barry awards? I didn't know Eisler had a special award...

Seriously, though, as much as I wish my friends who have been nominated the best of luck, and as much as I'd like to one day be nominated myself (who wouldn't?), I think there are just too many great books out there to whittle it down to a handful.

Then again, sometimes I think writers should get an award just for being able to finish WRITING a book.
I came to this career after a lifetime in advertising, and if you think we have a lot of awards, the ad industry has awards for the best awards. I won so many plaques, trophies, bowls, certificates and statues that I lost count.

But the two awards (Gumshoe and Thriller) I didn't win for Beneath A Panamanian Moon meant more to me than all those advertising awards combined. Why? Because it was my first book, and getting nominated was a way of telling me I'd made the right decision to follow my dream. I know that sounds schmaltzy, but it's true.

Being nominated was such a thrill, I don't know if I could have remained continent had I won.
"Being nominated was such a thrill, I don't know if I could have remained continent had I won."

Then, David, please allow me to say... I'm damn glad you lost!

:)
I would suspect that most people outside the mystery community don't even know about most of them. Fans might pay attention, but I dobt the bulk of readers care one way or another.
Anthony Ballots are already out. This was mentioned weeks back on the 4MA Bouchercon discussion list.
"I would suspect that most people outside the mystery community don't even know about most of them."

I'm sure that's true. On the other hand, there might be enough people in the community and enough fans -- the people who are supporting most crime authors anyway -- to make a difference.

One thing I've noticed is that the Gumshoe Award is often mentioned in newspaper profiles and other pieces on authors who've won. I wouldn't have thought it would matter enough to bother including it -- but apparently the fact that authors have won an award or two (whether this one or others) does merit mention.

I suppose that it's a way of conveying to the audience that the author being written about is someone of note, and thus worthy of the attention they're being given. (Accepting, of course, that the award might not mean that at all.)
The next "big" awards from the UK are the Duncan Laurie Daggers - damn, I want to say the CWA Daggers. I'm on the judging panel for the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger, and between the five of us judges, I think we come up with a fairly balanced 007 shortlist. There is always some heated discussion about the merits of each book. But as mentioned previously, judging is a very personal subjective thing, and that's why an odd number for the panel makes life easy at times.

How much the book buying public takes notice of awards (if it isn't nominated by Richard & Judy) is another matter. And, of course, it depends on how much publicity it gets. It would be interesting to see the following year's PLR figures for a nominated author in any category.
Though the figures alone wouldn't necessarily tell the story. What if a book won an award and it just happened that the author's follow-up was reviewed in the NY Times, or plugged by Richard and Judy? It could get hard to determine the influence of the award vs the influence of the review. Certainly we all know the Rankin story where the Gold Dagger (I mean DL Dagger or whatever it is now) made a huge impact. But did it really? It's certainly what's credited with the impact, but what if the reviews alone were such that he would have broken out anyway? Black & Blue was released in January of the year and was automatically hailed in reviews as the best crime fiction read of the year.

And (of course) it's impossible to separate it all out. As Ian said when I asked him about it, there were probably a number of variables that contributed to his breakthrough and this may explain why other winners haven't seen the same dramatic change in their sales.
I won an obscure award that ceased to exist after that first year. But it got me published. Only thing I ever won. And getting nominated last year for a Gumshoe for that same book was a thrill. I think we'd all be lying if we said there wasn't a small part of us that wishes to be recognized with either a nomination or an actual award. It's a validation of our work. That said, I have no illusions or expectations.

What I like seeing are the lists of nominees, and discovering books I hadn't been aware of before. I discovered Jess Walter's Citizen Vince that way, and TJ Parker's California Girl and numerous others.

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