There are awards for every artistic endeavor. We have The Grammys for music. Oscars for movies. The Emmys for TV. Golden Globes for both TV and movies. The Tonys for Broadway.
Literature is no exception. There is the Hugo, Nebula, Man Booker, Pulitzer, Bram Stoker, Newbery, Pushcart, Edgar Allan Poe, along with many, many other well-known and no so well-known literary prizes. There’s a lot of awarding going around which isn’t a bad thing. People work countless hours and years on a project and it’s great to be recognized by your peers for your efforts.
But how much does the average person care about awards? I’m sure many of us have had discussions when nominations have come out about whether someone or something deserved it. Sure, some people are swayed by films, shows, books, and artists who have been nominated or won an award. Others shrug their shoulders in indifference. Financially, entities who have been nominated or win usually see some kind of bump in sales and interest.
When it comes to literature, do readers care about awards? I’m sure like artistic fields, it depends upon the person. Personally, when I see on a book cover wither the book or author has been nominated or won a famous award, I only marginally care. I’m happy for them as it is something to be proud of. However, when I read a book with an award splashed across the cover it doesn’t modify my expectations one way or the other. I’m just hoping the story and characters are interesting.
What I’ve discovered over the years is often books and authors with awards or nominations attached them are hit and miss. To be honest, I have found many of them to be misses. Often, I’ve been puzzled as to why the author or book was nominated or won. Nothing about the prose stood out as ground breaking or extra insightful. Nothing about the book itself from plot to character to setting was extraordinary or groundbreaking. Some are good books that I enjoyed reading. But some of them, many of them, were pretentious and overhyped. It made me wonder how they got nominated in the first place.
This got me thinking about if there is a correlation between awards and reader favorites. In looking at Goodreads.com’s Reader’s Choice of Best Book of 2017, I noticed many of the books on the list have not been nominated for major awards. Does this point to readers not caring about awards? Maybe. One website certainly doesn’t provide conclusive evidence in what is a subjective area. Other websites I poked around listing readers all time favorites resulted in a mixture of books which have won awards and books that have not.
If anything, being nominated or recipient of an award opens the author and work to more intense scrutiny. As much as I try to not have a bias when reading a book, if I’m reading a book or author who has won an award and the story simply isn’t doing it for me, I start to wonder. Why did this win and not something else? Sometimes I wonder if it is one of those situations where people knee deep in the industry see something I don’t. Maybe my literary palette isn’t sophisticated or knowledgeable enough.
In the end, do awards really matter to the average person? I don’t think so. For readers, what will always be most important is whether the story grabs them. Awards are great and as a writer, if I ever got nominated or won an award I would be thrilled. What would make me more thrilled, though, is to have readers enjoy my work and to be satisfied I had put out my best. I know that sounds cheesy and perhaps even trite, but honestly, on my list of dreams and goals for myself, an award isn’t on it. I think that’s why I wonder if awards even matter to readers.