And the Award Goes too…

Academy20awards2095 I have a love/hate relationship with a bald man whose shimmering naked body has been dipped in gold paint.  Wait… that didn’t come out right.

I have a love/hate relationship with the Academy Awards. 

My complaints aren’t original.  At its worst, Oscar night is a self-congratulatory love fest full of millionaires patting each other on the back.  The broadcast is too long, 99% of the acceptance speeches are mind numbingly boring, and some of my favorite movies never even get a nod (and the Oscar for best foreign film goes to…Shaun of the Dead!).  And yet, I watch it every year for one reason and one reason only…to see Salma Hayek fill out an evening gown.

No, I watch it for those little moments that are off the cue cards.  Like last year when Jon Stewart pointed out the absurdity of the awards after a hip hop group won for best song.  "Martin Scorsese: Zero, Three 6 Mafia: One."  Or in 2002 when Michael Moore got booed off stage after his political rants against Bush (I wonder if they’d boo him now.).  Or when Cuba Gooding Jr. brought some life to the show in ’96 after his win for Jerry Maguire (what ever happened to that guy?).  Put simply, the Oscars are at their best when real life creeps in.

Okay, enough of the nostalgia.  What does this have to do with the writing biz?  For me, the Oscars brought to mind the subject of AWARDS.

I’ve had a couple editors nominate me for things in the past, but I’ve never made any finalists lists.  I won’t lie, on some level it bothered me.  Getting overlooked made me feel that my work didn’t have the same merit as others.  Being an infant in this industry, maybe I didn’t have the writer’s leather-tough skin yet.

The question becomes, was I right to feel that way?  After all, in most cases these things are judged by our peers, aren’t they?

And here’s a few more queries to keep you busy.

How important are awards in the publishing world?  An Oscar can add a few zeroes to your next paycheck.  What can an Edgar do for you?

And…

On a personal level, are awards important to you?  If you had to pick, would you rather have recognition from your peers or would you rather have a large following, while other writers looked down on your work?

Just a few things to think about tonight while watching beautiful people stumble through lame jokes written for them on cue cards.  Let’s hope some of them fumble and accidentally say something interesting. 

 

24 thoughts on “And the Award Goes too…

  1. Alex Sokoloff

    Mike, I think a “love/hate” relationship with the Oscars is redundant. 😉

    I love my DVR, but never so much as on this night. Still, I’ll be watching from the minute they start broadcasting the red carpet. For me, it’s Nicole Kidman’s dress.

    Awards – this is a hugely relevant question to me right now. I really am as much of a newbie to publishing as you are – I made the leap over from screenwriting so it seems like I’m further ahead than I am, but I am a total virgin about the awards thing. I have made many more appearances and inroads into the mystery and thriller communities than the horror world, but when it comes down to it, THE HARROWING more rightly fits into the horror category, so I’ve holding my breath as the book kept making each cut for the Stoker ballot, and this week, got nominated for best first novel.

    The nom is a huge thing for me as a first-timer. My bookseller friends are announcing it in their newsletters. The book is being asked about and talked about on the (very big) horror message boards like Shocklines.com, the HWA board, The Red Light District. All kinds of people I don’t know are writing me to congratulate me on MySpace, my website, my own blog. And of course my editor and publisher are thrilled about it. All those things are a HUGE boost to the book and to my career.

    So of course I’m in favor of awards – just as a publicity bump. I think especially in genre fiction, awards focus attention on the genre and really help to introduce its new voices.

    Right away comes this dilemma, though. The Stokers are a peer award, as opposed to a judged award, and it’s been unnerving how much some writers are pushing their books for the nominations – sending PDFs of their books with the link to the ballot, multiple e mail reminders, etc. It’s caused a firestorm of backlash on Shocklines, the main horror message board, which I’ve been reading with huge interest, because I was so uncomfortable with the level of BSP myself, and doubly uncomfortable because I know it’s effective, if not crucial (Paul will second me, I’m sure, that you can virtually predict the WGA nominations by tracking which studios send out free DVDs).

    But I decided I just couldn’t do the hard-sell campaign. It’s not worth alienating even part of the community and potential readers by pushing that aggressively. I’m in this writing thing for the long haul, and intend to win a few of those weirdly wonderful statuettes along the way, but not that way.

    It is, really, enough to be nominated.

    Is that hopelessly naive? You got me.

    (Long answer, but obviously, I’ve been thinking about it. And sending good luck tonight to David Arata, nommed for Best Adapted sp for CHILDREN OF MEN!!!)

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  2. Guyot

    MM,Here’s the thing…

    Awards are completely subjective. More so in publishing than film.

    I’ve been a voter for the Emmys and the Oscars. I’ve been chair of committees for the Edgars, as well as a judge. Same for a couple of other pub awards.

    Now, the Oscars are voted on by a lot of people if you’re thinking about all of them in a phone booth. But compared to the number of movie-goers, it’s hardly any at all.

    The Edgars are the opinion of five people. That’s it. Five people, somewhat randomly chosen, decide what is considered the best novels of the mystery/crime genre. Five.

    It’s a joke. But it’s also the way it is. All we can do is hope the people take the job very seriously and very objectively – sometimes harder to do than people think.

    And it would be nice now and then to see judges that really know what they’re talking about. Seems like every year there are judges for the Edgar screenwriting awards that have nothing to do with, nor have ever written a screenplay. Some folks think this doesn’t matter. I’m not one of them.

    But regardless of a judge’s experience, it is ONLY, ONLY, ONLY the opinion of five people, and nothing more.

    All that being said, I’m like everyone else and would love to be nominated for an Edgar or Shamus or any other award. Because it’s an ego trip. It’s validating on some level – though, if you keep the five-person perspective – it should only be so validating.

    Everyone wants to win awards. And I love it when my friends get nominations. It’s fun. It feels special because we are taught from toddlerhood that if we do our best, we can win. Win, win, win. Winners are celebrated, losers are pitied.

    But again, all you have to do is look back at any of the awards we’ve mentioned – there have been amazing books and movies and performances, that have never been nominated. Like you said – some of your favorite movies don’t get nominated. But if you were a voter, they would, right? Subjective.

    Now… do they mean anything career-wise? The Edgar absolutely does. Ask SJ Rozan or Michael Connelly. They will tell you straight up how the award was directly responsible for more book sales.

    Look what winning the PWA/St. Martin’s thing did for Steve Hamilton.

    An Oscar means your salary (whether actor, writer, director, costume designer, etc) skyrockets. For years.

    Awards do matter. And awards look good on the shelf when that know-it-all neighbor comes over.

    But keep the perspective. Both when you’re nominated and when you’re not.

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  3. Naomi

    I’m glad that Alex and guyot took first crack at your question, Mike.

    Awards can or cannot ultimately help someone’s writing career. Just look at the Edgar list of past winners, and for every instance that you stumble across a recognizable name, there will be a name you’ve never heard of. That doesn’t diminish their accomplishment related to the book, but I don’t think the award necessarily secures a productive future of writing for that author. There are other factors dependent for that result.

    Awards have helped me to understand the constituency for my books. My debut was submitted for a lot of literary awards and wasn’t nominated for anything. It gained only one mystery nod–the Macavity, which is spearheaded by Mystery Readers International in Berkeley. That and fan letters pointed out to me that I had a Left Coast-oriented reader base, and, I’ve done my readings and signings accordingly.

    I’m thrilled about this year’s Edgar nom, of course, but am very well aware that many other worthy books in my category were excluded. It is a very subjective process, but then again I’m really humbled that these five people, through the process at hand, decided to include my third book on the list.

    I hoping that the nom will aid in securing some translation deals, which is hard for PBOs to get. Japanese publishers are not that interested in Japanese American stories (we are the ugly cousins and stepchildren), so maybe an American recognition will help. I also hope that my Mas Arai backlist will stay alive a little longer and that my next mystery will come out in hardcover. Just some little, tangible stuff. Gotta go, sorry if this is rambling.

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  4. Elaine Flinn

    Do nominations and awards REALLY matter? You bet you ass they do. But not just for your publisher – but as validation for you.

    Peer Awards: I’ve been an Edgar judge and was the ITW chair for Best First (Phoenix)- and yes – we were – on both occasions – five people. But I have to honestly say that both times – we five were dedicated to selecting what we truthfully considered the best of what was submitted.

    Reader/Fan Awards: Ah, now these are a different kettle of fish. These noms and awards tell you that you’ve made an impact – that readers applaud your work and want to show their appreciation. And honestly, isn’t that what it’s all about?

    P.S. I LOVE the Oscar’s too – so you know where I’ll be at 5pm tonight. My husband laughingly calls it ‘My Superbowl’.

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  5. JT Ellison

    Nice, timely post, Mike.I’m all about the nomination. That’s what’s important to me as a writer. It doesn’t matter if it’s a peer or a judge, it’s the simple fact that something thinks enough of my work to say so.

    I’ve got a short nominated for an award. And the sweetest part is the editor of the ezine was the person who nominated it. Not only did he think enough of the story to buy it, he felt it was worthy of recognition at a higher level. How can you not love that? Whether it wins a full nomination and gets slated for a vote, or drifts away into obscurity, either way, it was recognized.

    I hope I’ll feel the same way about a novel. Pari and I discussed this at length with the help of an excellent bottle of merlot, and it was self-discovery for me. Because this is so subjective, I don’t want to worry about the W/L column. The nomination is what’s key for my personal satisfaction.

    Naomi touches on some very important issues though. Awards can help in future sales, foreign sales, etc. Let me ask you screenwriters something. Does the Oscar win, the SAG or GG or any other award, translate in actual dollars for a movie? And in turn, do awards translate in actual bumps in book sales long term?

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  6. Guyot

    Jay-Tee,So are you saying that if you don’t get a nomination, then you will feel like you failed?

    That’s a very dangerous slope.

    And this goes to the point of my post. I know other authors who have become so bitter (because they weren’t nom’d) or become so egomaniacal (because they did get nom’d) because all they cared about was the nomination. The public recognition. It meant more to them than sales.

    That attitude can seriously F you up.

    If your book is not recognized by the five people that vote that particular year, how can that in any way have a connection to whether you wrote a great book or not?

    I think when one os writing for recognition as opposed to internal reasons, the first thing to suffer is the writing.

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  7. louiseure

    Except for the Best Novel Edgar (and to some extent the Best First Edgar), I’m not sure that crime fiction awards make that much difference.

    But in my case, winning the Shamus did. It gave me a pat on the back when I needed it, and kept me writing. Oh sure, I would have continued writing anyway, but the award allowed me a little breathing space — a chance to tell myself that I wasn’t as bad as I thought.

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  8. G. T. Karber

    I wanted The Wind That Shakes the Barley to win best foreign film, but I discovered about two weeks ago something that I have ignored forever. It’s best foreign language film–so Apocalypto can be nominated, but an Irish film not in Gaelic cannot. (Apocalypto wasn’t nominated for the Oscars, but it was at the Golden Globes.)

    Also, I took Jon Stewart’s comment about Three 6 Mafia not to be an attack on a hip-hop group winning best song–they deserved it as much as the other nominees–but rather an admonition on the failure to award Martin Scorsese. If he had come out on stage and just made a joke about a hip-hop group winning an award, it would have seemed (and been) mean-spirited. A hip-hop group just seems far less likely to win for the award than Martin Scorsese does.

    I’m sorry if I misinterpreted what you said.

    Also, I don’t think awards mean as much as recognized quality. Let me explain: Citizen Kane, The Maltese Falcon, The Shawshank Redemption, Pulp Fiction. None of those movies won Best Picture. (The first two were beaten by How Green Was My Valley, the second two by Forrest Gump.) And yet they are now almost certainly more relevant than the pictures that won.

    Put simply, awards recognize quality, of course, but they really don’t mean anything in the long run except a little boost in publicity. At least that’s how I see it.

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  9. Alex Sokoloff

    JT – with film and TV awards – yes, absolutely, they translate into actual dollar/salary increases for the nominees.

    Book awards – I don’t have a clue about the financial aspects, but as I said – within a week of the Stoker nom I can see the difference in name recognition. How long that lasts – again, I don’t have a clue.

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  10. Pari Noskin Taichert

    Oh, such a good discussion, Mike. Thank you for brining it up.

    And, before I forget . . . let me just say that “Shaun of the Dead” is one of my favorite movies of all time.

    Okay, the award thing:I think nominations do help a career. They certainly feed ego. (But, as Paul warns, they can also turn people bitter.)

    For me, the two Agatha nods gave a small-press writer a bit more credibility. But even though I’ve proven that I’ve got a more national reach, I haven’t attracted the eyes of a larger publisher yet. I’m not certain how much the nods affected my book sales either.

    Mike asked, “If you had to pick, would you rather have recognition from your peers or would you rather have a large following, while other writers looked down on your work?”

    It may sound awful, but I’d pick the lack of respect from my peers and the hordes of readers.

    I write because I HAVE to. It’s a molecular need. But, I need and want to make a real living at this — and that depends on numbers of readers, of book buyers, more than anything else.

    In some ways, awards and nominations are just a few steps up the publicity ladder from reviews. You get marvelous pieces in big publications and that knocks up recognition, creates buzz, sells some books. You get bad reviews and still might use the publicity to positive effect. Or, you might get ignored and have to create your own buzz somehow.

    It’s critical to remember why you’re writing in the first place, to nurture and praise that impulse that causes you to commit your stories to words and the world.

    To me, that’s the purest and most profound REward of all.

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  11. JT Ellison

    Paul said — Jay-Tee,So are you saying that if you don’t get a nomination, then you will feel like you failed? That’s a very dangerous slope.

    Good Lord, no. I’m saying that if I were to be so lucky as to have something nominated, the win or loss wouldn’t make a difference to me. That’s how I’ve felt about the shorts, I’m just thrilled to have the nod. The rest is icing. Of course, I’m just so thrilled that I’m actually getting published that anything is icing to me.

    I don’t measure myself against nominations or awards. I never have.

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  12. Mike MacLean

    Thanks to everyone for their insights.

    Paul said, “The Edgars are the opinion of five people. That’s it. Five people, somewhat randomly chosen, decide what is considered the best novels of the mystery/crime genre. Five.”Being a newbie, I had no idea. That really does put the issue into perspective. I will not allow awards to decide my merit as a writer… But I still want some damn it!

    Elaine,

    I have to plead ignorance regarding the reader/fan book awards. When it comes to movies, fan awards have left a bad taste in my mouth. Often times, it’s the most sentimental, unchallenging crap that seems to get the votes of the public, because those movies appeal to the greatest common denominator (If I’m wrong, someone feel free to slap some sense into me). I’m guessing reader awards are different.

    Pari,

    Don’t feel bad. I’d pick hoards of readers too. As you say, we’re going to keep writing whether we get awards or not. It might be harder to keep writing without the possibility of an audience.

    G.T.

    I didn’t make myself clear. I agree—I don’t think Stewart was putting down hip hop, or even the quality of the song. I do think he was putting down Three 6 Mafia. In their acceptance speech, these guys came across as ignorant buffoons. Sure, they were more interesting to watch than the other speechmakers, but so is a train wreck. They were walking, talking rapper stereotypes lacking only 40s of malt liquor. They may have been talented lyricists, (God knows I could never do what they do) but in all other respects they were unoriginal.

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  13. Elaine Flinn

    Mike:Fan awards are The Anthony (voted on by attendees of Bouchercon), The Agatha (voted on by attndees of Malice Domestic), The Lefty (voted on by attendees of Left Coast Crime), The Barry (Deadly Pleasures Magazine readers), The Macavity (Mystery Readers International). The Gumshoe, The Shamus, The Edgar, The Thriller I(TW), and the Stoker are all juried.

    I was over the moon when I received my noms and the Barry – because they were from READERS – and like I said before – isn’t that what matters? You might consider them the common denominator too – but they are the audience that is important – and something every writer should remember, recognize,applaud and respect.

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  14. Alex Sokoloff

    I did see that special on hip hop, Pari – REALLY interesting. I loved the segment where Mos Def and the guys were posing for thug photos and barely able to keep straight faces. Priceless.

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  15. David J. Montgomery

    I have been told (by people who should know) that the only award that reliably helps advance your career is the Best Novel Edgar. All the other stuff is nice, but ultimately it’s not going to mean much in terms of sales, nor career advancement.

    But that’s only one reason for awards, and maybe not even the most important one. I think awards are important because they are our way (imperfect though it is) of recognizing quality work in our field.

    Writing can be such a lonely business, a frustrating and discouraging business. Lord knows that for many of us the money involved is hardly worth the effort. But to receive the acknowledgment and recognition of your peers or fans, to be singled out for the quality work you’re doing, I think that can be something important and meaningful.

    I don’t think we should ever become too caught up in awards (winning or losing) nor should we lose sight of what it is they are saying (and not saying). But we should still take pleasure in the recognition that there are fine writers in this genre, people writing good books, worthy books, and that is something worth celebrating.

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  16. Mike MacLean

    Well said Mr. Montgomery.

    Elaine,

    You’ve seriously hurt my feelings.

    In my laziness, I did not elaborate. I think reader awards and movie fan awards are two completely different animals. Readers base their votes on the work. I’m not sure if that’s true of all the movie fan awards. Just check out the fan reviews at moviefone.com. Half are by teenagers who’d give a turkey like House of the Dead fives stars because it “looks kewl!” (That’s right, they’ve never even seen the movie). Are these the same kids who vote for the awards?

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  17. Bill Cameron

    It all feels so random to me anyway that I tend to think of awards and just another lottery ticket that came in. Maybe it means more actual money, or maybe it just means that a room full of people clap for you one particular evening and then someone buys you a drink, but in the end, is it any different from anything else in this biz? The right person has to read the thing at the right time, and be in the right mood, or “NEXT!” What else can we do but write something, send it out, and hope the right ping pong balls get sucked up the lucite tube?

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  18. Elaine Flinn

    Awww, Mikey! I’m so sorry! You’re too sweet a guy to scold anyway. 🙂

    And Bill? Wait…just you wait! I’ll remember what you said when you get your first nom! 🙂

    And David said it all so nicely too.

    Reply

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