Wednesday, November 23, 2005

It's Not All In My Head

I believe I may have mentioned here that I feel overwhelmed by the number of book awards I've been reading about the last couple of years. Though I will admit that I am easily overwhelmed, it appears that in this case, at least, I have some justification. According to Debating the Rewards of so Many Awards in the L.A. Times, literary awards just in the U.S. are up from around 20 fifty years ago to at least 1,000 today.

With that many awards, shouldn't we all get nominated for something sometime during our careers? Is it an honor to be nominated when there are so many? Does the sheer number of them undermine their value?

I agree with Mary Gaitskill, author of Veronica, which was a finalist for this year's National Book Award. Forget about recognition, forget about honor, forget about feeling one with your fellow writers while you're all attending a nice reception. (All mentioned in the L.A. Times article) Book awards and book award nominations sell books. At the very least, they get your book in general interest publications so the public might see the title.

I know that sounds crass, but there are a huge number of books published these days, while the number of book reviewing spots hasn't budged. It's extremely difficult to get anyone in book publishing to pay attention to a new title. The general reader hears about only a small percentage of the books that are published each year. An award nomination gets your name in the paper, which is what the average reader reads.

An example? My local city paper rarely--rarely--publishes reviews of children's books. No book I have ever written has received any attention from that paper's book editor. However, last year I was nominated for a Connecticut Book Award and at least got a mention in the article on the nominees. Pegi Deitz Shea, who won the award for children's literature that year, actually was given a couple of paragraphs in an article a week or two later.

I know that doesn't sound like much, but in the competition for press, which is as demanding as the competition for awards, we did good.

Thanks to for the L.A. Times link.


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