Sunday, August 22, 2010

Flavor of the month

by: Joelle Charbonneau

I’m not a reader who loves jumping on the bandwagon of whatever hot new book is on the list. It took me until book four to break down and start reading Harry Potter. I admit I was glad I did, but most of the time I don’t feel that same happiness at devoting my time to what everyone else is reading.

Case in point: I picked up a book a few months ago that has racked up lots of award nominations. Everyone was talking about how fabulous it was so when I saw it on the discount shelf I decided to add it to my TBR pile. You have to remember that my TBR pile is enormous and keeps growing, so it took me a while to finally get around to reading the book. I cracked it open and after ten pages wanted to put it down.

But I didn’t.

People had nominated it for awards – lots of awards. I kept reading waiting to discover the reason(s) why. The point of view shifted almost every other paragraph which made it hard to follow whose thoughts I was reading. The killer seemed obvious. The descriptions were lovely, but no more so than other books I’d read. I assumed that the payoff at the end – the solution to the mystery – was going to be sensational. That I was going to be amazed at how the pieces fit together to form a picture I never saw coming. I flipped the pages waiting for a huge payoff.

It never came.

I was disappointed. In fact, I felt cheated. I shouldn’t have. There’s a reason I don’t normally read the ‘flavor of the month’. This would be it.

As a soon-to-be-published author, I seem to find myself paying attention to award nominations in ways I'd never done in the past. The question is, does anyone else really care about these awards? Do you find yourself reading a book because everyone else is doing it? Or do you like to be the one setting the trends? And if you don’t like to follow the crowd, at what point do you break down and decide to see what all the fuss is about?

17 comments:

Keith Rawson said...

Because I'm up in the middle of the night dealing with a sick toddler, I'll be the first to answer this one and the answer is a resounding no.
I don't care about awards.
In fact, I don't think the casual reader does either.
I think the only people who care about awards are the people who get nominated for them and the only time I think awards affect sales numbers is if the award is either a Pulitzer or the National Book award.
Don't get me wrong, I'm happy when friends are nominated or when novels I like get nods, but overall, I just don't care.
And in my opinion, there are way too many of them.

Michael Malone said...

It depends what kind of book award it is. If its, say a crime fiction award I'll be more curious about it, but if it is deemed to be serious "literature" I expect it to be style over substance and avoid it.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I think it means a lot in the literary world. For instance, Bonnie Jo Campbell's book, a collection of short stories, was published by our university press. Once it was nominated for the National Book Award, the demand for the book was so great they had to turn it over to a commercial press. Nominations for awards like that get a lot of press coverage and people pay attention. I am sure the Edgar is important--for a few weeks perhaps. It may lead me to look at the book in the store or library but it doesn't mean I will read or buy it.

Jay Stringer said...

I think awards mean a lot to publishers. The difference between an author being offered a tin of biscuits as an advance or a relatively large sum can come down to an award. Likewise and unpublished author can get the foot up that they need by being nominated or winning.

But i don't think readers care. Sure, if some famous tv personality includes the book in their book club, then it will sell more. But then again, not that much.

Over here when i was in bookselling the Richard & Judy book club started. For the first few seasons, the books sold a lot. Then it started to fade, and the the book stores were chasing a buzz that just wasn't there. I don't know if thats still the case, but i suspect it is.

Bryon Quertermous said...

Jay is right. Readers don't care about awards as they don't care about blurbs. But they go a long way in generating in house support with a publisher and getting the extra push they might not give otherwise.

And sorry about the sick toddler keith. I can relate.

John McFetridge said...

Jay is right, publishers care, but the reason they care is because awards increase sales. So some readers must care.

Joelle Charbonneau said...

Keith - I hope your little girl feels better soon. We just went through that in our house. Zero fun for all:(

Patti - you hit the nail on the head - some awards matter some of the time. It's interesting to see how some awards drive buzz while others don't.

Jay and John - Yep. Publishers clearly care. Of course, if you don't have the sales to go along with the awards you'll still be given a tin of biscuits. But as John said - if publishers care it means sales go up with the award nod.

michael said...

In an endless sea of books published and now self published on Kindle, you have to find a way to get the attention of the reader. Do I buy a book because it won awards? Do I buy a book because everyone is talking about it? No, but I do check out the author at Amazon. What is the book about? Will it appeal to me? When in doubt I download a sample.

Awards are like word of mouth, it says to the reader someone liked this book. It does not make me buy the book but it does make me consider buying the book.

Chris said...

I have a mild interest in awards, mainly because I like to see them offered and delivered to good people who work hard. I don't know that they influence my buying or reading, but I'll drop a reference to an award as part of my arsenal in trying to get people to read a book I might be recommending.

Word of mouth probably drives 80% of my book buying, but not so much at the macro level. I never would have read Savages by Don Winslow except that a) people I respect were raving about it, and b) it wasn't available in any of my local stores. That's usually a great combination, I've found, which is really kind of sad.

But the Stieg Larsson books? I'll never read them. Read the first couple Harry Potter books and bailed. I've tried a couple other bestseller types and have always been underwhelmed, so I don't bother anymore. There is already more than enough stuff for me to get through, those huge sellers pushing the stuff I do love off the shelf don't need my attention.

nigel p bird said...

a hot potato of a topic by the looks of it. i think that i'm influenced indirectly by awards because of their nature. nomination breeds interest, interest attracts readers and readers mean word of mouth.
it's word of mouth i like to follow more than anything, but as we all have different tastes not even that is foolproof.
and chris, i reckon you're missing something by avoiding the larsson trilogy - there are many flaws in it, it can be pulled apart in different ways, but seen as a whole it's pretty smart.
awards have their place just like the slush pile, and if i'm ever lucky enough to win one i'll be shouting it from the rooftops (conversely, if i'm on the slush pile i'll whisper it in the shower).

Brad Parks said...

Well, Joelle, to get your answer definitively, I'd say you'll just have to pay attention to your sales figures when SKATING AROUND THE LAW gets nominated for the Edgar, Anthony, Shamus, Barry, Nero and Macavity next year (and, as one of Toni's authors, you are expected to do at least that much).

That said, I think awards are like a lot of other things in book marketing, where my motto is: Nothing works. And everything works.

In other words, if you were trying to track the actual difference in your sales of getting nominated for one award, you'd probably find it doesn't move the needle much at all. (And, in fact, the people who pay attention to awards are the people in the mystery community -- a relatively small subset of readers -- who have probably already read your book anyway).

Then again, visiting a bookstore, doing a blog post or going to a conference probably doesn't move the needle that much either.

But taken in total? Somehow it can all add up to something that moves the needle -- both in house, as Bryon and John point out, and outside of it.

And, yeah, personally I've picked up books simply because of award attention. I found Sean Chercover that way -- and certainly wasn't disappointed. (Can't wait for his next one).

Dave White said...

I think Awards are great for our insular online mystery fan community. You'll find that a lot of fans on listserves, Twitter, and message boards will pick up books when they're nominated. However, I think when you want to go big... and hit the average fan, nominations are going to matter less.

Though, I've found a lot of people have heard of the Edgar... which is the big one... so that might help.

Steve Weddle said...

They give awards for books? Holy crap. Hahaha. Just kidding. But seriously, sorry to hear you didn't like my book.

Joelle Charbonneau said...

Michael - good point.

Chris - word of mouth is always a good thing. I find lots of fabulous reads that way.

Nigel - I still haven't broken down and read the Larsson books - yet. I will at some point. And yeah - if I by some miracle get nominated for an award - I'll be sending up smoke signals letting people know.

Brad - Gee - I'm not feeling any pressure to get nominated after your comment. Not at all.....YIKES!

Steve - Are you fishing for compliments? Well, you should get lots of them. I love your book. Now an editor has to get off their backside and buy it so I can gush over the newest version.

Dana King said...

Awards don't matter to me, mainly because I find it rare that I like award-winning books. I'll look at many winners and say, "That won and [insert favorite book here] didn't even get nominated?" Every time that happens, I pay less attention to future awards. (Recent case in point: THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO.)

Charlieopera said...

What Dave said is probably true ... awards are more meaningful within the writing community itself. Unfortunately, so is the process of nominations within the writing community. I doubt there’s ever a way to legitimize any awards (of any kind other than purely statistical--there is no denying most home runs and/or bestsellers--the numbers say it all, 51 is more than 50 and best sellers are by definition best sellers), but best this or best that (nominated by who exactly?) and/or what the actual process of elimination was (as opposed to nomination) makes it all a bit too murky to get too excited, I think. I probably reread books I’ve enjoyed in the past more than I read new “hot books” (although I did read through all 3 Stieg Larsson books and enjoyed them) and I read more yet to be published manuscripts than “hot books” in a year (but I genuinely enjoy the process). The more engaged one chooses to be in the politics of awards the better chance of recognition he or she stands than those who choose to remain outside the loop (or those unaware of the loop). As for any perks awards might cultivate, whether publishers achieve wood over them or not, there are certainly a few multi-nominated authors (some excellent writers) still feeling the pinch of the bottom line a lot more than any perks from nominations.

But let’s take the time to talk about my beloved new york state buffalo bills. They romped over the Colts this week ... even if the game was played in Toronto.

WriterMarie said...

Awards for other books don't matter to me...but I'm sure I'll feel differently once I'm published! LOL I will say that a friend of mine is a self-pub author, and her sales definitely went up when she received an award, so it must matter to some people. I look for books where the subject matter interests me, and if I like a particular author I will continue to buy his/her books. I also look for good reviews from friends and others. I guess all of the various entities add up to make or break book sales!