Wednesday, December 23, 2015

What Does It Mean To Be An Award-Winning Author?

Whenever I talk to an author who won a book award, I can hear pride in their voice.  Often the awards vary in significance and many awards are chosen out of applicants who pay to be considered.  Some awards have far fewer competing titles than others and many awards give out not just one or two awards but sometimes dozens.  So what does it mean to be an award-winning author?

Publishing likes to throw around three terms:
·         Bestselling author
·         Critically-acclaimed work
·         Award-winning book

Many times these terms are tossed about without a qualifier.  For instance, there’s no legal definition for “best-selling author.”  One can make the claim without giving further details.  There’s a difference between being a New York Times best-selling author and someone who was on the Amazon best-seller list for an hour under a narrow category such as Best-Selling Cookbooks About Bagels.  That doesn’t mean the term is meaningless.  It just means we need details: which list, how long were you on it, and just how many copies did you sell?

Awards are the same way.  Tell me what the award was for and who issued it.

There’s a big difference between a USA Book Award or a Benjamin Franklin Book Award vs. National Book Awards, Newberry Medal or a Caldecott Medal.  The pecking order goes all the way to a Pulitzer Prize and Nobel Prize in Literature.  Each of the awards means something, but not equally.

But one still has to wonder what it means to be a winner of any award.  Isn’t it a subjective process that begins with who is picked as a judge and what methodology is chosen to evaluate the nominees?  How is one even nominated for an award?  How does any award take into consideration the many hundreds of thousands of eligible books into consideration?

I guess with awards it reaches a point that anyone of a dozen or even a thousand books – out of up to a million published annually – could interchangeably be chosen for an award. It’s somewhat easy to filter through and dismiss a lot of books – assuming you have the time to read them - but it gets much more challenging to determine why one book is better than the rest.  I know it’s hard to do when discussing restaurants, music, and movies, so books are not different.  In sports, there are winners and losers.  Pints are tallied, runs are scored, goals are totaled.  Very little may separate two teams in a given game, season, or series, but there is always a final game to determine, head-on, who is deemed the champ.  Can book awards really do that?

Can awards have a scoring system that is transparent to the public – or must the decision-making process remain behind closed doors?  What would be the fairest way to determine an award winner?

Beauty pageants have scores for different areas and competitions, from speaking to performing, to bathing suits.  But each thing is subjective.  So is judging music, movies, and dog competitions.  But some things are statistically quantifiable, such as hot-dog eating contests, highest GPA at a high school, a champion golf tournament, and NASCAR racing.  But apple pie taste contests, fashion competitions, and even gymnastics events come down to opinions rather than fully measurable facts.

I find it interesting that you really don’t see much overlap in any of the award winners.  The IPPY or Indie Excellence Award Winners did not capture a Pulitzer, nor did a Caldecott capture a Newberry.  Each award has its own qualifying rules, time of application and consideration, judges, and different standards.  Some awards are exclusive by nature, geared towards a certain format, such as awards for audio books (Audies), or genre, such as fiction (Man Booker Prize), or some other demographic such as the National Jewish Book Awards.

Once someone wins an award it seems like it’s forgotten by everyone but the winner.  I can tell you who won the World Series in 1985 but I couldn’t name the 2014 winner of a major writing award.

But awards, as flawed as they may be, are better than nothing.  At least they highlight books and honor decent writers.  It’s just that too much politics, money, and bias seem to attach to the awards, making you feel a little suspect as to whether someone else was more deserving of winning.

I’d like an award for my blog but I never even entered it into a contest or for any honors.  Really, the reward or award that I earn from this is purely self-satisfaction in knowing I helped others and that others enjoyed reading my ideas and thoughts. I share a piece of me every time I post something.  I know book writers feel the same way.

So I raise a glass to every writer who won an award, to anyone whoever applied to one, and fell short, and to those who never looked to get a medal or trophy but who write out of love – or madness.


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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2015

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