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 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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