By Chris Goff
Ask any author, it’s a thrill to be nominated. And even nicer to win! With Spring marking the kickoff to Awards season, this time of year you’ll find any number of authors waiting on pins and needles to find out whether or not their book has been given the nod.
But how important are awards, really?
Authors love being acknowledged. Writing is a solitary endeavor and believe me, there’s nothing better than having your work validated. It says we’re not writing in a void and that others are being touched by our words.
Readers may say awards don’t matter that much because, just like us, they read books that haven’t been nominated for awards all the time. But hand a reader a list of nominees for a book award when they’re browsing, and often they’ll make selections off the list. Just like often they consider the recommendations of staff or on the shelf talkers in a bookstore or library.
Publishers and agents will often say that awards don’t translate to book sales, but they love it when their authors are recognized. It’s one way they know they’ve selected their authors well. Plus, it helps build author recognition with readers.
Who submits the books for awards?
There are lots of award competitions. Some require nomination by readers or members of a group, others require publisher submission, some are free for all to enter, and some require a fee.
Most mystery and thriller book awards happen in the Spring or the Fall. Same with state book awards. And in almost all cases the books being honored have been written in the previous year. Usually a traditionally published author’s publisher will submit their book for the more prestigious awards (not always, so check), and they often won’t submit to the state book awards or smaller competitions. It can get expensive, and not all award competitions are worth entering.
So which book awards are worth entering?
Awards are all run differently. Some awards are given by committee, some by readers, some by librarians, some by educators, some by vote of the membership. There are hundreds of awards given in the United States each year. In Mystery Fiction, there are basically ten awards, plus the state book awards. And not all the awards will be a fit for your book.
The Lefty’s. Given by Left Coast Crime. The 2021 awards for books written in 2020 are awarded in four categories, including most humerous.
The Edgar® Awards, started in 1946 and named in honor of Edgar Allan Poe, honor the best in mystery fiction and nonfiction. They also include two additional award categories (the Simon & Schuster Mary Higgins Clark Award and the G.P. Putnam’s Sons Sue Grafton Memorial Award).
The Agatha Awards celebrating the traditional mystery are best typified by the works of Agatha Christie. The genre is loosely defined as mysteries that contain no explicit sex, excessive gore, or gratuitous violence, and would not be classified as “hard-boiled.”
The Thriller Awards, given by International Thriller Writers recognizes the best thrillers of the year.
The Silver Falchion Awards, awarded at Killer Nashville, seek to honor the best crime books of 2020.
The Anthony Awards, presented at the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention since 1986, are literary awards for mystery writers named for Anthony Boucher (1911–1968), an American critic, editor and mystery novelist. The Anthonys are among the most prestigious awards in the world of mystery writers.
The Macavity Award are nominated and voted on by members of Mystery Readers International.
The Shamus Awards honor private eye novels and short stories.
The Barry Awards are presented by readers of Deadly Pleasures magazine.
And finally, The Hammett Prize, named after Dashiell Hammett, given for literary excellence in crime writing by the N.A. Branch of the International Association of Crime Writers.
What happens when you win?
For the author, being presented with a plaque or sculpture is a sign that others admire your work. What could be better? But how can use your win to help your career, boost sales. Which awards do readers pay attention to?
It’s hard to say. Prestigious awards can grab the attention of an author’s agent, publisher, fan base and media, but even small awards can open doors.
Take advantage of the leverage winning an award offers.
Authors – make use of all collateral you’re given—bookmarks, stickers, shelf talkers. Put information on your website. Slap stickers on your book covers. Send announcements to publishers’ associations, your writers’ groups, family, friends. Mail out a newsletter. Leverage signings with booksellers you many not normally have an opportunity to sign with. Offer to speak at your local library or teach a class. In other words, create buzz. It’s what drives book sales.
Readers – take advantage of the winner lists. These are books that have all been vetted for you. Read them. Write reviews. Read more and write more reviews. By doing so, you’re helping create the buzz that drives book sales. By reading in the genre, you’re keeping ALL mystery and thriller authors in business. You’re creating demand.
Whatever you do, don’t go in with expectations of winning!
Every year, hundreds of mysteries are submitted to award contests, and only a handful are chosen for recognition. The Edgar® Awards receives over 500 submissions for Best Novel every year, and another 500 for Best First Novel. All any of us can do is write the best book we can and wait to see what happens. And while we’re waiting—we can write another good book!
Readers, how much attention do you pay to the awards lists when they come out? Like people who watch every movie nominated before the Oscars, do you try and read the nominees before the awards are presented, or do you wait and read the winners?