By Louise Ure
The crime fiction community is certainly not shy about patting itself on the back. Maybe it’s a reaction to that whole “genre fiction isn’t as important as literary fiction” guff, but we sure do like to celebrate ourselves with awards.
Here’s a partial list of some of the mystery awards out there.
• The Edgar®
• The Anthony
• The Agatha
• The Thriller Award
• Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award
• The Shamus
• The Lefty
• The Dilys
• The Crime Writer Association (CWA) Dagger Awards
• The Nero
• The Barry
• The Gumshoe
• The Macavity
• The Simon & Schuster/Mary Higgins Clark Award
• The Arthur Ellis Award
• The Lambda Literary Award
• The Lovey
• The Quill
• The Davitt Award
• The CrimeFest Awards
• The Bruce Alexander Memorial Historical Mystery Award
• The Reviewers Choice Award
• The IPPY (Independent Publisher Book Award)
• The Hammett Prize
• The David Award
• The Ned Kelley Award
• The SMM/Minotaur First Crime Contest
• The Spotted Owl
• The Falcon Award
Some of the awards (like Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar®, the granddaddy of them all, beginning in 1946) are determined by a committee of member-writers who make the selection. Others are more reader/fan based, like the Anthony or the Agatha. In those cases, attendees at mystery conferences like Bouchercon or Malice Domestic vote for their favorite crime writing of the year.
Other awards winners (e.g. The Barry, The Macavity) are selected by the followers of a particular crime fiction organization or magazine (Deadly Pleasures and Mystery Readers International, in this case).
The criteria for an award might be broadly stated (like The Nero’s “for literary excellence in the mystery genre”) or much more narrowly defined, like this list for the Simon & Schuster/Mary Higgins Clark Award:
“The winner is selected by a special MWA committee for the book most closely written in the Mary Higgins Clark tradition, according to the following guidelines set forth by Ms. Clark:
* The protagonist is a very nice young woman, 27-38 or so, whose life is suddenly invaded. She is not looking for trouble – she is doing exactly what she should be doing and something cuts across her bow (as in ship).
* She solves her problem by her own courage and intelligence.
* She’s in an interesting job.
* She’s self-made – independent – has primarily good family relationships.
* No on-scene violence.
* No four-letter words or explicit sex scenes.”
Many of these awards are U.S.-centric, but others are also geographically specific, like the Falcon (“to honor the best hard-boiled mystery novel published in Japan”), the Arthur Ellis (“recognizing excellence in Canadian crime writing”) or the Ned Kelly (Australian authors only). And while the Spotted Owl Award celebrates the “best mystery by a Pacific Northwest author” many U.S. states also have prizes for the best crime fiction set in that location or authored by a resident.
With all this going on you’d think that each and every one of us — fiction writer, non-fiction writer, short story writer and debut author – would be covered in glory by now. We’d each have so many blue ribbons and commemorative plaques and prize-winning teapots and crystal statuettes that we’d have no room for cups and glasses in the cupboard anymore.
Not so … but it’s nice to dream.
I don’t have a “favorite” award, although I must admit I go all Sally Field (“You like me! You really like me!) just thinking about those jury-of-your-peers committee review awards. On the other hand, there would be nothing nicer than getting one of the public vote awards and knowing your work resonated with the people it was supposed to: people who love to read crime fiction.
And while I don’t think awards do much for sales, if they make just one publisher, just one bookseller, just one hesitant consumer take another look at your work, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Last year’s book, The Fault Tree, is a finalist for a few awards this year and I can tell you – as a person who has both won and lost awards in the past – that the nomination itself is the most important part for me. It says, “Somebody somewhere thought you did something right once.” And it gives me a reason to sit down at the computer in the morning and try to do it again. Sure, it would be nice to win, but I will already have been buzzing with the nomination for three months anyway.
So how about you, ‘Rati? Do you have a favorite award or judging system? Do you think awards matter? And has seeing award information on the cover ever made you pick up a book?