The Joy of Awards

December 1999
by Nick Weir-Williams, Continuum International

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Writing this between the announcements of the Booker Prize and the National Book Awards (not
to mention our current call for entries for the Benjamin Franklin Awards) made me wonder about the
value of awards in the publishing community. Do awards constitute a genuine demonstration of peer
respect for the craft of writing, editing, and publishing? Or do they simply cater to the vanity
within us all for winning things and the thirst for coming first? Or are they simply a good way of
trying to sell more books?
Well, yes to all three, of course. Awards aren’t given out for nothing, although sometimes it
might seem this way (I don’t think I’ve ever been offered a German novel at Frankfurt whose author
hadn’t won some prestigious literary award). Yet, only a tiny fraction of the books published each
year ever win awards, or even “Best of” listings in Publishers Weekly or Choice.
It really does mean something to an author and a publisher that a panel of peer judges deems their
particular title the outstanding book in that category for any given year. Most categories of any set
of awards have had hundreds of entries for that year, and rarely is the winner a foregone conclusion
from the start. And “best” is a very hard adjective to define and justify if you are a judge.
Fortunately it doesn’t mean the best-selling or most expensively produced.
Actually best means exactly what we as publishers attempt to do all the time. That is, to combine
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