by Gar Anthony Haywood

As you may have noticed, some of us Murderati authors of late have been having a heck of a time getting brand new posts up on schedule for your entertainment.  It’s not that we’ve been shirking our duties, it’s just that life intrudes.  So rather than fresh content, for better or worse, you’ve been treated to a lot of Oldies but Goodies over the last few days.

Well, as it happens, I’m in a bind trying to put my own post together today.  The family and I are moving into a new home this weekend and to say I’ve been swamped getting ready would be the equivalent of saying Noah worked liked the devil preparing for the flood.  I’m dead on my feet.

Still, all excuses to do so aside, I’m not in the mood to fall back on an old post of mine on this Wednesday, no matter how brilliant it would have been.  So what I’m going to do instead is lightly touch on a subject that’s been on my mind quite a bit lately.

Take a look at this book cover:

I bought this Fawcett paperback back in 1986 or so.  This photo’s rather lousy, so just to be clear, the cover text reads as follows:


Shamus Award, Private Eye Writers of America 

An Amos Walker Mystery



“A gem.  I think Amos and McGee would understand each other.”
John D. MacDonald

Now, here’s my question: Can you guess what element of the overall cover ultimately convinced me to buy the book?

a)    the art

b)    the John D. MacDonald blurb

c)    the title

d)    the reference to the Shamus award

e)    the name of Estleman’s character, Amos Walker

If you guessed b, you’d be close.  I’ve never been big on cover blurbs, but a kind word from John D. MacDonald would have been nothing to sneeze at.

The art?  It’s fine, but it didn’t particular impress me.

I liked the title, I didn’t love it.

And while Amos Walker is a great name for a series character, I wouldn’t have risked $1.95 on that alone.

Which leave us with d, the reference to the Shamus award.  That’s the correct answer.  I’d never heard of the Shamus award at the time and knew nothing about the Private Eye Writers of America, but I figured if a group of Estleman’s peers had seen fit to proclaim this book “the best private eye novel of the year,” it had to be pretty damn good.

It was.

I’m a little more jaded where awards are concerned now, of course.  But not by much.  I still believe in them, and value them, and yes, goddamnit, as an author, I covet them.  How readers in general feel about them is a mixed bag.  Some find awards important and some don’t.  And publishers?

Publishers don’t give a flying f-word about awards.

You want proof?  How’s this:

I’m a judge on the Best Paperback Original committee for one of the major book awards this year and I can count on two hands the number of submissions I’ve received directly from publishers over the last five weeks.  Authors have sent their own books in, publicity professionals have sent the books of clients in — but only three submissions have come from the house that published them.  The list of major publishers yet to be heard from, regardless of who did the actual submitting, would be longer than your arm.

Conclusion?  Publishers don’t think the promotional payoff of one of their books winning a literary award (short of the Booker Prize) is greater than the cost of mailing one physical copy each out to four or five award judges.


I think this is pretty sad and incredibly shortsighted, but maybe publishers are right.  Maybe awards really don’t matter.

What do you think?


  1. Leigh Lundin

    A Canadian publisher wished to nominate one of my stories but after a close perusal of the rules realized she couldn't: Apparently the MWA specified the publisher must be US-based and the CWA insisted the author must be Canadian. Kind of leaves some writers out in the cold.

  2. Burl Barer

    When submitting THE SAINT: A Complete History.. to the Edgar Awards, I had to buy five copies of my book and submit them myself. The publisher does not submit books. As it turns out, it was a worthwhile investment on my part — I have that bust of Poe sitting atop the fireplace.
    My current publisher is more than happy to promote my status as an Edgar Award winner on the cover of all my books. Yes, I think even being a finalist for a prestigious award is an excellent recommendation. Awards do mater. Perhaps paperback publishers don't submit directly because they would have to submit five copies of every paperback original published that year, including those they didn't feel were among the best.

  3. David Corbett

    Huh. Interesting.

    I'd been nominated so often and never won that I came up with a joke to soothe my pride: Always a bridesmaid, never the stripper at the bachelors party.

    I was always told by my in-house publicist that my books were submitted to all the major prize committees, and I had no real reason to doubt that. I got nominated pretty regularly, even for my third book, which was a trade paperback original. It got nominated for the Edgar, Anthony, Barry. But for the Shamus, thankfully, Bob Randisi contacted me directly, wondering why "we" hadn't submitted, and I had my publisher send him a book, or I sent him one, can't remember now. (I lost, but hey.)

    But the last book, also TPO, dropped like a stone, which I always kinda thought was odd, given the reception for the book before it, and the last book was a better book. Only Spinetingler considered it for an award (it won, yay me, finally the stripper at the …) My publicist assured me she sent the book out, but there was a vibe with that book (clearly, they were letting me go), that has always left me wondering.

    As for what the prize means to them? Nothing, except, as Burl noted, they love using your prize-winning status for PR purposes.

    I'm disheartened to hear so few books are coming your way. One more sign major publishing isn't just adrift.

  4. Debbie

    When it comes to childrens books, I always choose award winners and will even seek them out. In the case of my own reading, I go on recommendations.

    Did I miss something with the Moses reference, or did you mean Noah? <asked in a tiny, embarrassed voice>

  5. Lisa Alber

    This is interesting. I would have thought the publishers would be into prizes, because through promotion that could lead to bigger sales…huh…

    I do know that AGENTS like awards. They'll sign you on in a jiffy, which makes sense–one more thing to use to entice the publishers.

    Actually, I have an example the corroborates you theory, Gar. I met a women who'd won a Malice Domestic grant for her mystery draft, and then later became a finalist for the Malice Domestic unpublished novelist award. Landed a great agent. But what happened? None of the publlishers wanted the novel because it didn't fit the itty-bitty box called "cozy mystery." It's got some globe-traveling adventure aspects. Therefore: no.

    The grant and finalist nomination didn't mean squat. The publishers couldn't get past the fact that the heroine was an adventuress rather than a cat-loving knitter. CRAZY.

    So now she's self-published to great success. (Will even be on the new authors panel at Bcon.)

  6. Ronald Tierney

    If I buy a book by an unfamiliar writer, almost "all of the above" applies. It's nice to have an author endorsement, but sometimes that might just mean an endorsement trade. If it won an award, that is even more encouraging. But I might not even look at the book unless the cover draws me in.

  7. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Very interesting post. Doesn't surprise me at all. I don't think publishing companies care about awards unless they happen to go to authors the companies are hot about promoting anyway. If an award goes to someone the company DOESN'T have on the A list, it's just inconvenient.

  8. PD Martin

    I was always told by my publishers that my books were submitted to all the 'major' awards. But who knows, hey?

    I also found publicity for Kiss of Death (book 5) was much weaker than usual in Oz. I thought it was because my publicist left, but I think David hit on it "clearly they were letting me go". Chicken and egg – if the sales aren't there, they won't spend a dime on PR (and maybe on submitting to awards either)! But I do think it adds a lot to have 'finalist' or better still 'winner' on a book's cover.

  9. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Gar – I'm a judge on one as well – getting hardcovers – and they are ALL coming from the publishers. It must be the difference between paperback and hardcover.

  10. Rebecca Cantrell

    I think awards matter. I buy books because they get nominated. I've judged enough contests to know that difference between Winner and Finalist is very small indeed–all the finalists were good enough to win. I don't think it depends on the publishers. I've won and been nominated for awards that the publishers don't even bother to list on the next book.

    Still, it's a HUGE honor to know that your peers or readers love a book that much. In the final analysis, that's a big reason I put the words on paper to begin with.

Comments are closed.