The prevailing thinking in the book industry—like most market segments—is that awards matter. Most publicists will tell you that book awards can sell books and also yield other opportunities like speaking engagements and even film scripts and the like. They can have impact and (like this blog for instance) are grist for the promotional mill.
When I wrote Truth Is in the House, my debut novel, I was oblivious to the potential role book awards play in the literary business. Like most readers, I was aware of the media accolades that come with the high-end awards like Pulitzer, National Book, and Booker. But it wasn’t until my publisher Koëhler Books nudged me to submit Truth Is in the House for award consideration that I came to appreciate the pervasiveness of book contests. So, trusting my editor’s judgment, I took the plunge, and proceeded to complete forms, submit book galleys, and pay entry fees.
I still await word from most places where I submitted, but was delighted to hear that the prestigious Los Angeles Book Festival thought highly enough of Truth Is in the House to give it Honorable Mention in its General Fiction category among its 2021 submissions. Shortly thereafter, Pacific Book Awards named the book the top Winner in its Historical Fiction category. And, then, literally minutes before this blog was to launch, I received word that the International Impact Book Awards selected Truth Is in the House as winner of their “Friendship” book category.
I assume these awards will sell some books here and there, and that naturally is a good thing. But for me their core value lies in their personal affirmation and recognition that the self-perception I have of my work is not drastically skewed.
While I have no doubt that book festival judges rigorously apply professional standards to assessment of literary works, I also have no doubt they bring to bear, consciously or not, personal predilections about what is exceptional literature that should be singled out. Not getting an award might disappoint, but a rejection often isn’t commentary on the quality of your work. Sometimes, it speaks as much if not more about the personal bents of judges than the content of the work they’ve vetted.
But when your work gets recognized positively in three different festivals out of the box, you’ve begun to establish some consistency and tapped into common ground, and that feels good.
We authors have our bouts with doubt. It’s the nature of the craft, a perpetual curse we must suffer. Writing is a constant foray into an abyss of uncertainty, a seemingly never-ending quest to get word content just right, where we indulge the feeling that no matter how many writing and editing rounds we employ, we are eternally one more rewrite from literary nirvana.
And so most of us habitually confront this nagging question: to what extent should we care what others think about our writing or our storytelling? The truth is, the scrutinizing eyes of others—some select others that is—hold importance. No matter how confident and comfortable we are as writers, this question is wont to seep into our conscience as a matter of course. We are well served to handle it honestly and bravely.
For sure, crafting the narrative you want, creating riveting dialogue, and developing and nurturing characters along the path you plot for them, are matchless rewards of themselves. They enliven the creative juices. They fulfill. They are enough to keep on.
But the contest awards help too. They speak affirmatively to the craft and let us know we might well be on the right track. I for one appreciate the help.