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.