A Bit About Awards

@jamesscottbell


In 1996 I was offered a five-book contract by the Christian publisher Broadman & Holman.  
I had proposed bringing the legal thriller genre to the inspirational market, which was starting to explode in the fiction category.
The contract was generous for an unknown scribe, though I did happen to be a slightly-known lawyer. I was the publisher of a legal digest on California search and seizure law (still am, in fact) and in that capacity had made an appearance on national TV during the O. J. Simpson preliminary hearing in 1994. That’s not really something to boast about, as just about every criminal lawyer in America made some sort of TV appearance during the Simpson trial. (It did turn out that the judge in the prelim relied on a case the lawyers missed, and may have found said case in my digest. Always happy to help a judge).
Back to the novels for B&H. The second book I did for them was Final Witness. Now, through the wonder of digital publishing, I am able to bring it back into circulation.

A cold-blooded killer is destroying all who oppose him. Will there be a final witness to the truth?
Young, idealistic law clerk Rachel Ybarra has just been handed a career-making opportunity––helping in the prosecution of an infamous leader of the Russian Mafia. But when the star witness turns up dead, Rachel discovers the case is not merely a battle for the truth––it’s a battle for her life.
The book is available until Friday for a special launch price of $2.99. You can find it on:
At the time I started researching Final Witness I had a law school classmate who worked as an Assistant United States Attorney in downtown L.A. He provided me access to the office and his fellow lawyers, and technical assistance on the nuances of federal prosecutions. The result was a book I remain quite proud of.
After it came out, and completely unbeknownst to me, a new award came along specifically for Christian fiction. The Christy Award (named after Catherine Marshall’s famous novel), had several categories. I got a call from my editor one day to tell me that Final Witness was a finalist in Suspense.
There was a big banquet at the Christian Booksellers Association convention in 2000. Final Witness took home the prize, for which I’ve always been grateful. But that’s only part of the story.
Awards are nice to win, we all know that. It’s not so nice to lose, even though you’re a finalist. You may strain to be happy that you’ve been nominated, but the tight smiles at the Academy Awards each year show just how tough that is to pull off in real life. 
The next year, my follow-up novel, Blind Justice, was also a Christy finalist. This time I didn’t win. And I was a fool for getting so wrapped up in the contest. I could excuse that by saying, “Well, we’re all human, even recovering lawyers.” 

But then I hearken to what Kate Hepburn says to Bogart in The African Queen: “Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above.” That includes human nature. We show it in all its contradictions in our fiction. But as people in this world we need to learn to keep our heads when all about us are losing theirs (thank you, Mr. Kipling).
So don’t put too much stock in awards, accolades, lists, recognitions. Enjoy them if they come, but don’t stand at the window, nose pressed, lusting after one. You won’t get much sleep that way. And your writing will probably suffer.
The best antidote for awards anxiety is this: go deeper into your work-in-progress. Get involved in your characters’ lives. Give them the attention. Put them through the emotional trauma. Do that and you just may get the kudos that really matter—from readers.   
So what are your thoughts on awards in the arts? 

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Writers, Awards and The Journey

James Scott Bell


This past week TKZ blogmate John Gilstrap and I received the lovely news that we are finalists for a 2012 International Thriller Writers Award. Even lovelier, we are not in the same category, so we can root for each other without tight smiles. John’s novel, Threat Warning, is up for the Best Paperback Original. I’m up in the short story category for One More Lie.
Which prompted a few thoughts on awards, kudos and the writing journey.
Of course, every writer––indeed, anybody who does anything––likes awards and recognition. That’s our nature, and there’s nothing wrong with it. Used rightly, it can be a motivation to good work and striving to get better.
But it should never be a dominating drive, in my view, or it might become a snare and a distraction.
One of my heroes is the late UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden. When I was in high school I got to attend his basketball camp, and talk to him a bit. Coach Wooden gave all of us a copy of his Pyramid of Successand taught us more than just the fundamentals of the game.


“Individual recognition, praise, can be a dangerous commodity,” Coach Wooden once wrote. “It’s best not to drink too deeply from a cup full of fame. It can be very intoxicating, and intoxicated people often do foolish things.”
He was just as clear about losses. Never measure yourself by what you lost, but by how you prepared. That’s the only thing within your control and the only thing you can change.
“I never mentioned winning or victory to my players,” Wooden said. “Instead I constantly urged them to strive for the self-satisfaction that always comes from knowing you did the best you could do to become the best of which you are capable.”
That’s his famous definition of success, and it’s rock solid. When we work hard and know we’ve taken whatever talents we have and pushed them further along, that’s achievement. It’s one of the reasons I teach writing classes and workshops. I love helping writers get to their own next level, whatever it may be for them.
So regardless of what happens at this year’s ITW Awards, I will be happy for the trip to New York with my wife, for hanging out with John and other writers I admire, and appreciating the privilege of being included in such august company.
But then it will be time to come back to L.A. and hit the keyboard again, working hard to be the best I can be. It makes each day its own challenge and, in striving, its own reward. Don’t miss that by letting an inordinate desire for recognition mess with your head.
“I derived my greatest satisfaction out of the preparation, the journey,” Wooden wrote. “Day after day, week after week, year after year. It was the journey I prized above all else.”
*Quotations are from Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Courtby John Wooden and Steve Jamison (Contemporary Books, 1997)



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Is There Such Thing as Bad Sex?

Most authors are happy to be recognized for their work, but how honored would you be if your book got picked as numero uno for the annual literary award – Bad Sex in Fiction?

A London magazine founded in 1979, Literary Review, has recognized “Bad Sex in Fiction” every year since the prize was initiated in 1993. While there are countless examples of great sex in fiction, especially in some of the best adult films found on sites like full tube xxx, literature seems to have more of a hit and miss relationship with sex. And the “winner” in 2010 was Author Rowan Somerville for the use of disturbing insect imagery in his novel “The Shape of Her.” Judges for the annual prize noted many animal references throughout the book, but they were especially impressed by his passage “Like a lepidopterist mounting a tough-skinned insect with a too blunt pin he ****** himself into her.”
Somerville, who was born in Britain but now lives in Ireland, took his victory in good humor, saying, “there is nothing more English than bad sex.” And he was honored to be shortlisted alongside American writer, Jonathan Franzen, who was nominated for passages within the best-selling book – “Freedom.” Prior winners include many literary heavyweights, such as Sebastian Faulks, Tom Wolfe, Norman Mailer and the late John Updike, who was awarded a lifetime achievement for Bad Sex prize in 2008. Maybe these authors should have researched more by using the services of a london escort, where there really is no such thing as bad sex.
(What’s worse than winning the annual prize for Bad Sex? Try the lifetime achievement award.)

And in case you’re curious, last year’s winner, American author Jonathan Littell in his book “The Kindly Ones,” described a sex act as “a jolt that emptied my head like a spoon scraping the inside of a soft-boiled egg.” If you and your partner incorporated products from sites like Babestation Play sex toys I don’t think you or your partner would be feeling like your heads are being scraped out like a soft-boiled egg.

So reading about this award, I had to ask myself. Are the judges selected for their literary expertise or are they an authority on bad sex? (And if they have earned both distinctions, maybe they should quit reading during sex.)

And if, as an author, you’re no good at writing bad sex, should you be upset? Being rejected for a prize like this, isn’t that a good thing? This award could shed a whole new light on the time-honored author phrase – a good rejection.

Keeping in mind that this is a public forum, please use your own good judgment in replying, but I’d love to hear from you. Do recognitions like this make you want to buy the book to see what all the fuss is about? Or have you ever written a sexy passage that didn’t make your own edit process because even YOU were disgusted?

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ITW Thriller Awards

By Joe Moore

DSC_0373 (Small) It’s Thriller Awards submission time again. ITW announced the winners of the 2009 awards in July during ThrillerFest. Jeffery Deaver won Best Thriller for THE BODIES LEFT BEHIND. Tom Rob Smith took home Best First Novel for CHILD 44. Alexandra Sokoloff grabbed the Best Short Story award for THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN.

ITW_Award_black_72dpi As previously discussed on this blog, the hard cover and paperback originals were lumped together into Best Thriller for 2009. For the most part, this was based upon the belief that a good book is a good book no matter what the format.

For 2010, things have reverted back to separating the hardbacks from the soft. So the categories are Best Hard Cover original, Best Paperback Original, Best First Novel, and Best Short Story.

ITW has announced the call for submissions. Competition is open to anyone who meets the requirements which include being published by one of the organization’s recognized publishers. You don’t have to be an ITW member to enter. A complete set of rules can be found on the Big Thrill website.

Thrillerfest D3 '09 (Alan Jacobson) (194) [640x480]For a look at the 2009 Thriller Awards Banquet and ThrillerFest conference, visit the ITW photo gallery.

Now that the Thriller Awards are back to separating the hard cover from the soft, do you think there’s a preconceived prejudice between the two? In other words, if a book is published in hard cover, do you think readers consider it to be “better” that one released as a paperback? Or is it true that a good book is a good book?

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ITW Thriller Awards

Posted by Joe Moore

Recently, my fellow Kill Zone blogmates John Gilstrap and Michelle Gagnon posted blogs that addressed the announcement of the 2009 ITW Thriller Awards nominees and the judging procedure. Both blogs raised questions and concerns, and generated a large number of comments. To address those issues, I asked ITW Vice President of Awards Vicki Hinze to comment on how the current judging was conducted and what the future holds for the Thriller Awards process.

I’ve been out of town and just returned and saw the threads, so I thought I’d add a little insight, though I think the subject’s been pretty well covered. Still, a little more insight into this might put some minds at ease, and I’m all for that. Also, please note that I’m speaking for myself and not as a member of the ITW Board.

hinze1 Last year, I chaired the ITW Awards, and we did have separate categories for Best Hard Cover, Best Paperback Original and Best First Novel. All three awards named Finalists and Winners.

In response to members’ comments, wishes and desires, we studied the market and discovered (no doubt many knew already, but we did study this) and determined that the format of a book is determined by readership and that varies publishing house to publishing house. In short, format is largely a marketing decision. The bottom line was that two categories, Best Novel and Best Paperback Original were combined for this year’s contest.

This year, when the scores came in, more analysis took place on the results. I’m serving as Awards VP, and I informed the Board that I would be asking that the awards again be separated. This will be on the agenda at the board meeting in July. If that vote goes as I hope it will, then the categories will be Best Hard Cover Novel, Best Paperback Original Novel, Best First Novel (which combines all debut novels–hard cover and paperback [mass and trade]). This year, we added an award for thriller Short Stories (which includes novellas) and next year we will continue it and we hope to add one for nonfiction.

One of ITW’s strengths, I believe–and it is this belief that got me to join and then to volunteer to judge and then to act as award’s chair and ultimately acted as a catalyst for me when it came to Board service–is that ITW remains open and flexible and seeks what is in the best interests of its members. That’s its top priority–and I say that as one who’s witnessed its workings and its methods of weighing potential programs and retaining or adjusting existing ones. (i.e. eliminating author membership dues)

ITW is a young organization and yet look at all it has accomplished for thriller writers. Has it been perfect since inception? No. No more so than any of us as individuals have been perfect. But ITW does strive to elevate potential for all involved, seeking win/win situations and solutions. I love that about the organization.

One reason, I think, for ITW’s success is its willingness to try different things and atypical approaches. Some have been enormously successful. Combining the categories for Best Novel and Best Paperback Original was not. I have no problem with saying an attempt made in good faith for logical reason on anything failed. Where I would have a problem would be in knowing it failed, in feeling confident it would continue to fail, and not doing anything to change it. That situation would be doing a disservice to members. Making changes that could benefit our members is a worthy goal.

So please understand that action is being taken on this matter. Can I say we won’t have future attempts that end up with results we find lacking? No, I can’t. I can tell you that we’ll continue to make every reasonable effort to create win/win situations for members. When a challenge is spotted, it’ll be addressed and hopefully resolved in a manner that best serves the majority of members.

Remember that we’re a progressive organization. We dare to try different things in different ways, seeking to do all we can to bring added benefits. Personally, I don’t see that as a flaw but as an asset. Change spurs growth; growth, productive change. It negates stagnation, and that’s a wonderful thing, in my opinion, because stagnant things die.

I do hope that this post eases minds. I’m not idealistic enough to believe that everyone will be satisfied with any program. But I do want you to know that we are trying to incorporate the desires and requests of members and to devise a program that satisfies the majority of members.

I don’t recall saying that the experiment of combining the two categories failed. But frankly, I am not satisfied with the outcome. It wasn’t good enough and I think we can do better. So that’s the goal. To do better.

This year, the structure of the program is behind us. Its benefits and drawbacks have been reviewed and we have a plan for a path with more benefits and fewer drawbacks to pursue–and we’re pursuing them. Please feel free to leave any comments on how to make the program better and stronger. I promise I’ll reply to all constructive suggestions.

Blessings,
Vicki Hinze
Vice President, Awards
International Thriller Writers
www.vickihinze.com

Vicki Hinze is the author of 21 novels. She holds a Master of Arts in Creative Writing and a Doctorate in Philosophy, Theocentric Business & Ethics. She actively lectures on writing craft and technique and philosophy.

Her articles have appeared many respected publications and e-zines (Novelists, Inc., Romantic Times, Romance Writers’ Report, The Outreacher, The Rock and others) and have been extensively reprinted in as many as sixty-three foreign markets. She has coordinated and/or judged national and international writing competitions, served on various writers’ association committees, has been honored by Romance Writers of America with their National Service Award and in 2004 was named PRO Mentor of the Year.

Vicki is a charter sponsor of International Thriller Writers and serves on its Board of Directors. She’s a member of The Authors Guild, American Christian Fiction Writers, Novelists Inc., Romance Writers of America, Mystery Writers of America, Published Authors Network, Emerald Coast Writers, ACRA, Deep South Christian Writers and other writing organizations.

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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.

Well.

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:

BEST THRILLER OF THE YEAR
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.

Comments?

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“The envelope, please…”

by Michelle Gagnon

Congrats to Ann Littlewood, commenter extraordinaire and winner of our $50 gas card prize! And now, on to today’s controversial subject…


PBO Award, we hardly knew ye…

There’s been an interesting debate recently regarding changes to next year’s Thriller Awards.

Basically, here’s the scoop: the ITW (International Thriller Writers) organization has eliminated the Paperback Original (PBO) category. Now everyone (aside from debut authors) will pit their books against each other for the Best Novel award.

I’m actually surprised there wasn’t more of an outcry. PBO is a treasured category, in that it gives writers who aren’t necessarily guaranteed a spot on the bestsellers’ lists an opportunity for some recognition.

Writers and reviewers weighed in on both sides. Some claimed this was a fantastic decision, that a “Best Novel” category where only hardcovers are eligible makes the “Best PBO” look like a red-headed stepchild. It should be the content that matters, not the format, the argument goes. Which is a valid point, and one I always wondered about: why isn’t it simply, “Best Hardcover,” since nearly every other awards category is defined by format?

And many who chimed in said they trusted their fellow writers to treat the binding on submissions with a blind eye.

But just to play devil’s advocate, here are some things to consider:

  1. Bias

Allison Brennan made an interesting analogy based on her previous work in the legislature. I’m paraphrasing, but basically she said that when you wanted to talk to voters about the economy, you used a man as your spokesman; if you were discussing education, a woman. Because even when people think they’re completely fair-minded, there are inevitably some biases lurking in our subconscious.

There’s a chance that authors might prove to be more, not less, biased when it comes to formatting. After all, we understand how the publishing industry works. Sure, we acknowledge that there’s an arbitrary element to what kind of cover ends up on a book, and some publishers tend to favor one format over another. But given a choice, most authors would probably opt for a hardcover deal. It’s easier to get reviews, and collectors value them more highly. Also, since the production costs are higher, there’s a chance the publisher might throw some marketing money behind the book. These are all things someone who’s spent some time in the publishing trenches knows.

The average layperson, on the other hand, has no idea what the different formats mean, they just know that certain books are more expensive. But while they wouldn’t necessarily assume that a hardcover is superior to a paperback, an author just might. Even if they don’t think they’re biased.

  1. History

I asked during the discussion if anyone could remember the last time a paperback has been nominated for a Best First Edgar (since that category traditionally pits hardcovers against paperbacks, it’s a good reference point). I was curious, having submitted my debut thriller for consideration despite the fact that in recent memory I couldn’t recall a PBO garnering a nomination (if you know of one, drop me a line). Thanks to a bout of insomnia, I ended up going through the winners of Best First Novel Edgars (and believe me, I have discovered the cure for sleeplessness—this exercise could put Ambien out of business for good).

I got all the way back to 1971 before finally drifting off. For at least the past 37 years, no paperback has ever won an Edgar for Best First Novel. Next time I can’t sleep I’ll trudge through every nominee in that category, but I suspect the story will be the same. We all want to believe our books are being judged on a level playing field. But if that’s the case, then is it really true that for the past thirty-seven years, a hardcover was always superior to every paperback submitted?

  1. Why awards matter

When I’m writing a book, the last thing on my mind is whether or not it’ll end up being nominated for an award. I doubt any author is envisioning that as they tap away at their keyboards (although I have been known on occasion to accept imaginary Grammy awards in the shower. But you should hear my singing voice in there, it’s pure Mariah Carey.)

But we can’t pretend that awards don’t matter. Even my local bookstore (which has on occasion been downright hostile to genre fiction) mounts an Edgar display every spring. Harlan Coben has credited his 1997 Best PBO Edgar Award with keeping his career afloat, in that it persuaded his publisher to stick with him in the face of declining sales.

And again, I believe that a layperson couldn’t tell you the difference between an Edgar and a Barry if their life depended on it. But if they see, “____ Award Winning Novel” on the cover, they’re more likely to select that book over another one. Hey, it won an award, it must be a good read. So eliminating a category reduces the chance that five other books might garner some attention. IMHO, that is not a good thing.

  1. Apples and Oranges

There is inevitably some randomness to award distribution. Books on the whole are subjective little beasties, after all. And depending on the composition of the judging committee, some years noir may be favored over cozies, or vice versa. And really, how do you compare the two? Does the best romantic suspense novel trump the best paranormal? How do you weigh books written in only loosely related genres against each other? There are great books produced every year, across the board, in all formats. Yet it does seem that the more “serious” books (which tend to be hardcovers) have an edge. This is precisely why the Golden Globes feature separate categories for comedy and drama; it gives the comedies a shot, when traditionally they’re overlooked.

The RWA’s RITA Awards acknowledge this issue by having separate categories for Historical Romance, Paranormal Romance, and Romantic Suspense, among other subgenres. And these awards are generally acknowledged to be the romance publishing industry’s highest distinction.


  1. Multiple categories dilute the significance (or “Brand,” if you will) of the award

This claim I really don’t agree with. If anything, changing which books are eligible for an award on an annual basis would seem to threaten its legitimacy far more than keeping or adding categories (not to mention being incredibly confusing for authors and publishers). For example, last year my debut thriller was not eligible in the Best First category since it was a mass market paperback. The year before (2006) it would have been in the running, and it would again this year (2008). But in 2007 it was thrown into the mix with every other paperback author, regardless of whether they were on book one or twenty. Random? Absolutely. I’m glad they reverted to a true “Best First” category, with every debut eligible regardless of format. You only get one first novel, after all.

  1. “The Thrillies”

Personally, I’m all for having your more serious “Thriller Awards,” with gravitas, pomp, and circumstance. But after handing those out, why not have a little fun? Present an alternate set of awards and call them the “Thrillies.” Give a “Best Psycho” trophy (a knife, perhaps?) for the most terrifying villain, or a “Best Sex” prize for the best sex scene (I’ll let you use your imagination when picturing the prize for that one.)
I realize that will probably never happen, but it’s fun to consider. I’ve always thought that the Thriller Awards should be to the Edgars what the Golden Globes are to the Oscars: more entertaining and light-hearted, with someone throwing up in the bathroom by the end of the show. The Golden Globes achieve that by passing out more awards, not less (and by serving copious amounts of liquor). And I
don’t think an actor has ever turned one down because they felt having more categories diminished the significance.

I love the ITW organization, and have volunteered for it because I’m such a believer in their mission and goals. But in this instance I believe they’ve made a mistake.

There are many strong and legitimate opinions on both sides of this debate, and I’d love to hear them. Plus, if anyone has a spare Grammy hanging around, I’m in the market for one…

(my imaginary Grammy)


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