Thursday 27 January 2011


I'm writing this last week - if you know what I mean. I'm scheduling it to go out on Thursday, which will be the day after one award ceremony and the day before another. So, I'm going to be a tad stressed. And no, I haven't a clue whether I've won either or not, but I always prefer to assume not, because clearly the chances are that I haven't. [Edited to add: very very annoyingly, I had to pull out of yesterday's on doc's orders after straining my voice. Can't risk long-term damage. And you will see why there's a pic of my red boots here in a minute...]

But I thought I'd like to share some thoughts about awards. I'm going to make some points which may surprise you.
  1. Some awards are publisher-entered; others are generated purely by librarians or other committees.
  2. Publishers do not always enter all eligible books. Therefore a shortlist is not necessarily drawn from all eligible books. And therefore may not include all the "best" books available. Publishers tend to enter books they most want to promote, especially if, as often, they are limited to number of entries. A big publisher may have too many eligible books; a small publisher may not have the budget to enter for expensive awards, as some are.
  3. The shortlisting committees have ideas about which books they'd like on the list, for very good reasons to do with promoting reading. Again, they may not be about which books they think are "best" but which books would be best for this award list. This is GOOD because it creates variety and range. So, some awards for children's books will consist of a shortlist of quite varied books, some easy ones, some harder ones. Some awards aim at easier books; others have a more "literary" feel.
  4. The whole thing is stressful for most authors involved. Lovely, lovely, lovely to be shortlisted but still full of angsty feelings.
  5. Some awards are then voted by public vote. Some by loads of kids voting, who may or may not have read all the books - which is entirely understandable. And some by a committee of adults, sometimes with some kids along with them.
  6. A sequel is very much less likely to appear on a shortlist at all.
  7. Some publishers do more to promote authors on shortlists than others, for all sorts of understandable reasons. Some shortlists encourage publishers and authors to promote the book on the shortlist, so as to generate sales and interest, while others discourage it, so as to keep it fair. Each approach has merits.
  8. An award ceremony is a whirlwind of stress if you are me. I feel self-conscious, worried, bleurgh, flattered, proud to be there, refusing to believe I could have won, all keyed up, getting the face ready to look happy when I don't win, really looking forward to it being over, but also loving the adrenaline and meeting the readers.
  9. Usually, we have to talk about the book for a few minutes to hundreds of kids, which is something we do all the time but NOT in this situation. We have to find something different to say. 
  10. I haven't a flipping idea what I'm going to say for this week's two ceremonies. [Edited to add: I wrote something for yesterday's so the compere could read it for me. And I sent a photo of my red boots to stand in for me - see pic above. I think they'll do a better job than I would, frankly. They should win.]
  11. Gah.
  12. Bleurgh.
  13. Please, please, lovely librarians and people, despite my stressiness, please keep shortlisting me and be kind to me when I arrive all gibbery and stuff. Bleurgh and meh.


Jan Jones said...

Lots of good points re different agendas, Nicola.

But still, to be shortlisted is lovely and the award events - once you get there - have a "We're all winners" energy to them which is fantastic.

So sorry your throat prevented you going to this one. But I LOVE the boots!

J.T. Webster said...

Well I think you should win an award for all the wonderfully helpful things you share with us on this blog, AND for writing great books.

Your taste in boots is pretty good too!

Hope you get better soon!

K M Kelly said...

Thatks for the insight - really interesting - oh and those books are wicked!

Sally Zigmond said...

Once again, Nicola, you have written a measured and well-argued post. If prizes went for that, you'd win them all. Don't stress yourself unduly and please look after that throat. I'm sure your boots will do you proud as your stand-in.

(Did you see what I did there?)

Dan Holloway said...

I'm a relative newcomer to the literary world (as opposed to "being a writer" which I've done for ages). Nonetheless, having followed film since I was knee high to a whatnot I have to say if this post was decontextualised it could as easily be speaking about that world (the bit about sequels had me shouting "just like Godfather II. Go on, can you name any more?" even). Which goes to show as ever, there's not "literature" and "film" and "art": the arts are the arts and they're a funny old world of spin, preconception, and stress.

I can vouch for the "expensive" bit. There are many small publishers with a bigger budget than me who struggle (I remember Salt being very indignant - and Tindal St were worried that Catherine O'Flynn's stunning What was Lost might bankrupt them if it hadn't suddenly caught the zeitgeist as well as the judges' imaginations). We have amazing books. We want them to be entered for prizes because if they were. we're sure they'd win at least one. But thousands of pounds a pop - seriously, why is it OK to call entry fees of £10/20 for some short story comps a scam when entry for the Booker is a cool five grand with (from last year's stats) bugger all guarantee of recouping anywhere near that on shortlist sales, and that's OK?

It's nice to have some balanced posts like this - I wish the facts were more widely known - so when the public reads about an award winner and thinks it's "the best of everything out there" the truth were a little clearer.

I hope the voice clears up soon :)

Ms Scarlet said...

Help! I Need those Red Boots!
Please win lots of awards and then come back and please, please tell me where I can get a pair.

Elizabeth Bramwell said...

Thanks Nicola - and also to Dan for adding the info about the cost to enter competitions. Now you've pointed it out it seems painfully obvious that publishers pay to enter - but it never crossed my mind, nor did the fact that they might be limited to entries, and so forth.

Thanks for the information!

Flowerpot said...

HOpe that voice recovers soon and sure everything will go well - boots are wonderful.

sheilamcperry said...

Good luck with all this, Nicola, and I do hope you get better soon.

David John Griffin said...

And I'll second that.


Kath McGurl said...

Well I hope you won it or are about to win the one tomorrow. Sorry you couldn't go in person to collect the prize or not.

Helen said...

I had no idea that it was so expensive for publishers to enter books for prizes. What an eye opener, Nicola and Dan.

I hope the boots won something.