Man, do I need to win one of them literary awards?

Now that the launches are over, and the book stores (the ones I know of) have been supplied with my books and all my friends and relatives have been cajoled, teased and threatened to buy a copy of my latest creation in time for Christmas, how does one get to the next level of book sales?

Why not win an award?

I have seen writers’ works (spurred by their agents) being slavishly flogged at every literary award in the land and beyond. Fail one? Go for the next, and keep on the trail until someone feels sorry for you and gives you an award. Then sit back and watch book sales take off into the stratosphere.

Why does that happen? The power of endorsement, in a media•stricken society where the making of choice has been abdicated to “Oprah Recommended” or “Heather’s Pick”— that’s why.

Reader’s are wary of picking up a book unless it has some label: “long listed for X Award”, short listed for Y Award”, “Winner of Z Award” Who gives a damn about the award and the integrity of its selection process? “Hey, this book won an award – it must be good!”

Can any writer win an award? I am not sure about that these days given that awards are the tickets to best•seller status; they must be closely guarded like the Crown Jewels. I guess any publisher could forward their favourite author’s book to the dreaded long list: just mail in an application and advertize it on the book’s dust jacket – that’s a start! But getting beyond that to the short list? Now that is another story, because here is where you encounter the gatekeepers, those guardians entrusted with protecting the livelihood of the industry, to ensure that a few major labels are still around as the landscape gets littered with more self•publishing, blogs, wikis and other “noise” that take away from the public’s reading time.

I thought of inventing my own award once— after all, who would really tell the difference? I even wrote a blog article about it some time ago and it got more hits than the number of sold copies of my books. Eventually, I abandoned that idea because I am a writer, not a gatekeeper. And I figured that if there is a good story out there it will be told, eventually— even posthumously. Writers are gifted with the ability to tell stories and their stories will be heard.

This message came home powerfully to me when my novel After the Flood, which I wrote in 2002 and which languished for years afterwards in my “abandoned projects” file because no•one was interested in its subject matter, suddenly found interest when climate change became a hot topic last year.

Perhaps, I will not go for that award after all. Perhaps my reward is that the story got told, eventually, and during my lifetime—what a bonus!

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