We were discussing the sales of books that had won literary awards at my writing group the other night. And one of the authors there had commented on how many of these books that had won prestigious awards had around thousand sales only to their credit and that after winning the award sales had not really increased. Now granted this is very much apocryphal information but I will admit for me I’m not that interested in running out and buying the next Booker or Giller prize winner. It’s not that I don’t like literary fiction but for the most part their subject matter always tends to leave me a bit cold. That could just be because I am a genre ape, and live firmly in the blue-collar (some would say lower-class) neighbourhood of writing.
Of course this all comes down to what your personal concept of successes is. For some being a name amongst a very narrow swath of peers is what they crave, it’s how they assign meaning to their work. They are about the art and more than likely they have tenure in a writing program at a university which gives them time to write. Meanwhile the rest of us proles scrabble about in the salt mines. Working harder not smarter. Who’s to say.
The only time I’ve ever been nominated for an award to do with my writing was at the 2002 Leos. A Western Canada industry award series for film and television. I was up for, “Best writer in a short film.” It was a strange experience because of the five films in my category, I had written a horror film while every other one was an art film in every sense of the word. Right up until the award ceremony, which was weeks away when I was notified, I checked the website to make sure my name was still on the list and that they hadn’t in fact made a mistake. The night of the awards, I stood in the foyer of the Theatre with the other hopefuls making small talk and marvelling at the whole experience. For the first and only time in my life, I understood what the phrase, “It’s an honour to be nominated,” meant. It sounds trite, it sounds contrived but the weird thing is it’s really true. Because the second I crossed the threshold into the theatre to find my seat for the start of the ceremony and it finally hit me that there was a chance I would win this thing, my legs turned to complete Jell-O. So it was a bit of a relief actually when I didn’t win, though maybe things would have worked out differently for me in film if I had. Considering the state of the industry as a whole, probably not.
Don’t get me wrong, awards are nice, especially industry awards given to you by your peers. They very much represent a validation of your work from people you respect. In film a prestigious award can raise your quote and allow you access to material previously denied you. It can also be the kiss of death to your career (but most times that’s really a reflection of how the person who received the award proceeds with their life career).
Literary awards are probably a little different. They may provide you with a key to a publisher you previously had no truck with. They may give you access to that agent you’ve always wanted but sales? I’m just not so sure, mostly because I simply don’t have the data. If anyone does I’d love to look at it.
Because of my own personal background, I hate to say it but I’ll take sales over acclaim. Not because I’m, “All about the money.” More so because every book I sell is one more reader and hopefully one more fan who will keep reading and enjoy what I write.
Not that I won’t take the money…