How much do awards matter?

By Clare Langley-Hawthorne

I was on a Yahoo! discussion group the other day and we were discussing a recent book choice when the question was posed – how much do awards influence what you buy and read? This got me thinking of the bigger issue about how much mystery awards matter – for readers, writers and the publishing industry in general.

My theory (and feel free to disagree!) is that while awards are influential in terms of industry perceptions and in terms of making authors feel great, they have only minimal overall influence on readers. Now, I’m not talking about the mystery reading community but rather the wider reading community in general. I have to confess before I had my first book published I had never heard of most of the mystery book awards – and I was an avid reader! (though not, to my shame, a huge mystery reader – I have subsequently rectified this, at least a bit!). I vaguely knew about the Edgars but that was it – so while I had heard of the Booker prize I had no idea about the Lefty, Agatha, Macavity or Anthony – so for me (obviously!) awards didn’t have much of an influence on my book buying. In fact, many awards (Booker for instance) often reflected rather strange selections so I was more inclined to be influenced by reviews and recommendations than the seal-of-award approval. But that’s just me…

I do think awards recognize excellence and that the publishing industry certainly takes notice. I think (although I have no personal evidence…) that being nominated or winning an award may help an author secure the next publishing contract and perhaps garner a higher advance than would otherwise be the case. I also think, though, that an author’s track record in terms of sales is what really counts for publishers…There have been many terrific authors who have been nominated and who have even won awards who have still been subsequently dropped by their publisher on the basis of sales.

The consensus on the Yahoo! group appeared to be that awards were nice but not really influential. Most people preferred to rely on recommendations made by friends or reviewers they trusted. Many on the listserv also noted that in the mystery field there were so many awards that some readers felt the impact was diluted as many ‘popular’ choices went on to dominate – some people felt the awards lost their significance as a result. Many of the mystery awards are nominated and won on the basis of votes from members or registered conference attendees so overlaps are probably only to be expected – but I’m not sure whether this means in terms of the awards themselves or their significance to readers.

So what about you? How much do you think awards matter? Do awards influence what you buy and read? If so, which ones are the most influential and if not, why not??
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Coming up on our Kill Zone Guest Sundays, watch for blogs from Sandra Brown, Steve Berry, Robert Liparulo, Thomas B. Sawyer, Paul Kemprecos, Linda Fairstein, Oline Cogdill and more.