Monday, August 1, 2011

The Final Hurdle: Literary Awards

Posted by L.J. Sellers, author of the Detective Jackson mysteries
With the upheaval in the industry, the lines between legacy-published and self-published authors are blurring, and in some cases, disappearing. Yet, some of the old club mentality (and function) still exists, especially when it comes to awards. Self-published novels not allowed.

I belong to International Thriller Writers, and I joined when my series was published by a small press. A company, by the way, that is not on the list of acceptable publishers for Mystery Writers of American, which is why I’m not a member there. When I was with the small press, ITW encouraged me to submit my novels to its in-house awards, which I did.

Mid-last year, I left my publisher, but ITW allows me to continue to be a member. Yet, I still had to push and nag for the right to submit my new self-published releases for inclusion in The Big Thrill, the organization’s newsletter. For the record, I’m an active member: I volunteer with ITW by interviewing authors and writing features and participating in forums and giveaways.

For this year’s contest, I submitted Dying for Justice, which readers and reviewers seem to think is my best work yet  (giving it a 5-star Amazon rating). I was informed that the awards were only for books released by publishers on their list. Here’s the interesting part: The award chair encouraged me to fill out an application to become an approved publisher. Huh? That  doesn’t seem right. I’ll fill out the application, but if Spellbinder Press (my company) gets approved, then I really don’t see the point of having an exclusive list…unless the only criteria is producing quality books. But how is that judged?

Which brings me to another point: The books I write now are better than those I submitted before, because I’m still improving my craft. And my self-published books are better edited (by far!) than those produced by my ex-publisher. I pay for better cover design and professional formatting too. Overall, the quality of Dying for Justice exceeds the quality of the books I entered in the contest the past.

I don’t mean to pick on International Thriller Writers. I love the organization, and I appreciate that it’s trying to be more inclusive and has accepted some self-published authors. I also understand the difficulty of these decisions. How do you open the door to some indies without being run over by a flood of entries that don’t belong? Other organizations and awards face the same dilemma.

Joe Konrath has suggested that sales be the equalizer. Say, if your book sells 5,000 copies, then you’re considered professional, no matter the publisher. I don’t know if that’s the answer, but it’s certainly would simplify the decision process.

Writers organizations and award sponsors have to make changes to stay current, or they will soon be as obsolete as others in the industry that failed to adapt. How do we fix this?


  1. I'm with you and Konrath on this one. I really like ITW and have had an associate membership. But that's because I can't possibly be a "real" thriller author, unless some publisher has put an imprimatur on my thriller. Unanimous 5-star raves on Amazon and elsewhere don't count.

    Sales represent reader ratification, and they should be sufficient credentials for admission to professional writers groups and for award consideration.

  2. We're in the middle of a huge paradigm shift. Readers caught the wave first, even before a lot of writers. Writers, and writers groups, are working to re-evaluate long-held opinions about what it means for someone to publish their own books. But it's happening, and I too, like the idea of Konrath's suggestion that sales would be a terrific equalizer. Might even eliminate some of the traditionally published authors. Wouldn't that be interesting?

  3. You make some excellent points here, LJ. In the last few years, I have read a number of novels published by large publishers that definitely needed a good copyedit and final proofread, not to mention editorial suggestions for logic, discrepancies, inconsistencies, etc. As traditional publishers are cutting back on editorial staff and the quality of self-published books or books published by small presses is increasing, the lines are indeed becoming blurred. I agree that readers should be the final arbiters of what constitutes high-quality, entertaining, polished fiction, so why not use an author's book sales as a criteria for acceptance into organizations such as ITW and MWA?

  4. I had an interesting conversation recently with a SFWA board member, who was nominally in favor of having numbers be the benchmark for "professional" status. The only trouble is - how to keep the numbers from being manipulated. According to this person, they have received several applications from people who claimed to have sold "thousands" of self-published ebooks, but the numbers were faked. Once the organizations come up with a way for us to submit sales numbers that are verifiable, not just an Excel sheet from Amazon each month, then I think that barricade will fall.

  5. Fascinating discussion. I agree that it's "too early to tell" because changes are ongoing. There was a HUGE kerfuffle at RWA a few years back when they tried to define an "approved" publisher, because e-publishers were just coming into their own. But self-published books aren't considered ready for prime time regardless of quality.

    Terry's Place

  6. I'm with Peg: we're in the midst of one of the biggest shifts the publishing industry has ever seen--a power shift where the readers are swiftly taking control away from the publishers. With that, there's going to be a lot of confusion, a lot of questions. But make no mistake about it--not for long. Indie authors won't always be the exception, and they won't be on the outside looking in.

    It's all about to change.


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