The Results are in…

by Michelle Gagnon

The ITW recently posted the nominees for their Thriller Awards. Some of you might remember a post I wrote last August, when it was first announced that the paperback original category had been eliminated. Henceforth all of those books would be battling it out with the hardcovers for the moniker “Best Thriller.” There was a range of responses to my post, everything from “Hear, hear!” to “It’s silly to have different categories for different formats.” A few people chastised me, saying that any bias against paperbacks was only perceived, that I didn’t have enough faith in my fellow authors to judge a book based on its merits alone.


The results are in, and I am shocked, shocked! to report that not a single paperback original made the cut. thriller-award

Here are the finalists:

Hold Tight by Harlan Coben
The Bodies Left Behind by Jeffery Deaver
The Broken Window by Jeffery Deaver
The Dark Tide by Andrew Gross
The Last Patriot by Brad Thor

Now, I’m not claiming these aren’t the best thrillers of the year- of the five I’ve read three, and they were great. But I also read a slew of PBO thrillers last year, and I’d rank them as high (or higher) than those three. The ITW is always battling charges that it’s morphing into a club for NY Times bestselling authors, and judging by this list, that might be the case. Granted, books are subjective little beasties, and what I love others might loathe. Perhaps these were the best thrillers of the year. I plan on reading the other two to satisfy my curiosity (and because they’re probably good books).

But I still don’t see where having a separate category for Paperback Originals does any harm. If paperbacks are consistently passed over in favor of their hardcover brethren for another few years, I believe there will be an exodus of PBO authors from the ITW. Which would be a shame, considering the fact that this award was initially conceived to address the fact that few thrillers were acknowledged by the established mystery awards. And making PBOs the red headed stepchildren of the organization doesn’t help anyone.

That’s my two cents.


20 thoughts on “The Results are in…

  1. I agree with you, Michelle. Just about every other organization that gives book awards has a paperback category. It doesn’t make sense to me to do it any other way. Just because a book is a hardcover, doesn’t make it better.

  2. It’s too bad the paperback category was dropped. I think awards are mainly a badge of prestige for a writer, and if we had a couple more categories, it would spread the benefit around a bit more.

    In addition to the subject of awards, I’d love to see us blog about the whole class/marketing pecking order of mass market pb/ trade pb/ hard cover publishing. There are perceptions of literary style and/or merit, deserved or not, that get you placed within that structure. And I think those perceptions must influence award decision-making.

  3. I have to agree here Michelle. If there were still a PBO category, it would give more thriller writers a fair shot at gaining the same recognition as those published in hardcover, especially those trying to establish themselves. Because, let’s face it, very few people are willing to drop $25 for a hardcover by some writer that they never even heard of.

    And for the record, I’ve read some great PBO’s.

  4. PBOs suffer from an inherent disadvantage, as they are not as regularly reviewed, especially not by “major” publications. This leaves them under the radar of many nominators.

    I probably shouldn’t say this, but I once had to review a Brad Thor book, and I honest to God had to do some research to convince myself it wasn’t a parody. Seeing his name on the list of nominees is not going to send me rushing for the OTW web site so I can join.

  5. I was drawn over here via a different post. I write historical romance and historical fiction and know little of the ins and outs of the thriller world…

    … but to pass over or judge differently a book because of its format? Did I hear this correctly? I agree with Joyce. The inner guts of the book matter not the spine.


  6. “judge differently a book because of its format?”

    That’s exactly what a Best Paperback category does, which is why I’m not a supporter of it.

    Michelle, which PBOs would you put on the Best Novel list? I think these selections aren’t very inspired.

  7. I’m siding with David on this one. When we look at the exclusion of PBO’s in award lists we are looking at the result and not the source. That is, we need to address the underlying perception problem that PBO’s are less than their heftier brethren. You don’t do that by having a separate category for them – that only highlights the fact that YOU think they are different.

    I know David is one reviewer that doesn’t make the distinction between hard and soft cover novels. We need more reviewers and readers thinking that way. Then there won’t be a need to have two categories.

    So…. How you do that? I don’t know. Hey, I’m just the high concept guy here…..

  8. Michelle, I’d love to know which books you think might top the hardcovers mentioned.

    I’m loathe to follow something that seems to only list NYT bestselling authors. While those authors are good, there’s so many GREAT thrillers out there that I can’t imagine that a lesser-known (Best Kept Secret type of thing) wouldn’t make even a long list (and maybe one did, I don’t know).

    I’d be more inclined to buy a PBO of a book that won an award like this as opposed to a hardcover that won an award, because, right or wrong, I tend to think of NYT bestselling authors as ho hum. But maybe that’s just me.

  9. I don’t think that the judges are giving preference to bestsellers over lesser-known authors. (I was one of the preliminary round judges for Best Novel and I know I didn’t.)

    I don’t dig this list, but I think we have to give the judges the respect of assuming they sincerely chose the books they thought best. Even if we disagree with the selections.

  10. There are several reasons why PBOs don’t get reviewed as much…One of the main ones is that publishers often don’t send ARCs.

  11. Michelle – it’s the awards conversation again! My take on this hasn’t changed. Awards are a %*^*^£ nightmare. They make no one happy. Whatever view you take on things like this you piss someone off.
    As a Brit belonging to an international organisation I could get pissed off that only Americans have made the top 5 awards. But to be honest I’m too jaded with the whole awards thing to get worked up by it. Personally I wish we’d never started these awards. They’re an incredible amount of work and just seem to cause grief whatever happens.
    To the conspiracy theorists may I just say… as far as I know, as someone who’s been on the ITW board for 4 years or so, ITW’s awards are the most hands off and independent in the business. Aside from the one responsible member, those of us on the board haven’t a clue what’s being considered, and we’re all barred from entering too. The books that are up there are the ones the system produced, not some on-high diktat from ITW.
    As to whether ITW is elitist, well I would have thought last year’s decision to drop all subscription fees for eligible authors really ought to have put that one to rest for good. I don’t know why there isn’t a paperback original category. Why not write an article for The Big Thrill outlining why we need one so the debate can be out there. This is your organisation. It doesn’t belong to those of us working on the board.

  12. Thrillers were actually well represented as Edgar nominees this year; I thought PBO nominees China Lake by Meg Gardiner and The Cold Spot by Tom Piccirilli were both excellent. I also loved Scott Pratt’s debut “An Innocent Client.” And Christa’s book was arguably more noir than thriller, but I loved Money Shot.

    I’ll also say that I love Jeffery Deaver, he’s a fantastic writer and a wonderful person. But for one writer to garner two of five nominations in a category is unconscionable. The judges should have reconsidered and chosen which of his books they thought was absolutely best rather than to allow that to happen.

  13. Totally agree — two books by one author in a category is madness.

  14. I’m of two minds of this. On one hand, I agree with David that the texture of the cover shouldn’t matter, what’s between them should (this coming from someone whose books first three books have been published as PBOs).

    Yet on the other hand, any time you have to argue about whether something has a stigma attached, it clearly has a stigma attached. And you’d be remiss in not mentioning the success the “Best Paperback Original” category has hand in discovering and promoting some of today’s best crime authors. Just look at some recent “Best PBO” Edgar winners:

    Dana Stabenow
    Lisa Scottoline
    Laura Lippman
    Megan Abbott
    Harlan Coben

    These authors were clearly not published in PBO due to their lack of talent, but because their publisher felt starting off in PBO would help lead to a longer, more successful career. Especially in today’s economic climate, where hardcover sales are falling off dramatically, my sense is more and more publishers will be starting authors off in paperback. And since you cannot argue that a stigma (large of small) doesn’t exist, recognizing talent wherever it may be should be the goal of any organization.

    Now, would authors like Lippman and Coben have achieved the same level of success had they not won Edgars? Perhaps, and based on their talent you would hope so. But winning the PBO award boosted their profiles to a huge degree–again that is not arguable–as would nominations or wins for some of today’s (and tomorrow’s) best talent.

    Some of the stigma will certainly be erased if/when a PBO is nominated for a “Best Novel” award, but until then there will likely be the same fair/foul arguments with neither side being right or wrong.

  15. As a reader of all genres and an author of romance I find this discussion interesting. It seems award season always spurs these types of conversations. In the romance world the format question also pops up (in this case, print vs electronic) as to whether it’s a deciding factor for quality of writing/story. Guess we never get away from it regardless of the genre we write.

  16. I could go on all day about this, but there’s one massive, massive drawback to having the Best Novel Thriller Award category include BPO and Hardcovers. The judges.

    According to the rules, no one who has a book in contention can be a judge. And considering the vast majority of ITW authors DO have a book, hardcover and mass-market, in the calendar year, that means the only available jusges are few and far between.

    If the categories were separate, hardcover authors could judge BPO, and vice versa. It would make everyone’s life easier, would guarantee that everyone got a fair shake.

    I notice that we all aren’t pissed off that there were no women nominated for best novel (again.) As much as I love ITW, these nominations don’t really represent the realities of the market.

  17. Hear, hear, JT. It’s sad and incredibly frustrating to see female authors so underrepresented. And you’re completely right about the dearth of eligible judges.

  18. I was one of the preliminary judges for this year’s Thriller and the finalists list made me raise an eyebrow, rather like David Montgomery comments.

    I’m also pretty much on the same page as David Hewson in terms of awards.

    When I first had books entered in either the Edgar or Thriller, I was mildly stung to not even get in the finalist group, particularly my 2nd Derek Stillwater novel, which I just think is the best thing I’ve ever written.

    But having been a judge, I now realize that these awards are a total crapshoot. They’re wildly subjective, horribly time-consuming (let me repeat it, because it needs to be said: horribly time-consuming) and I had moments even before the semi-finalists were announced when I thought putting all the thriller covers of the year up on a wall and throwing a dart at them would be just as reliable a way to pick a winner.

    Your book not only has to be pretty damned good to win, but you have to be pretty damned lucky. In that respect, I guess it’s a lot like getting published.

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