Friday, July 28, 2006
Question about the Christy Awards
Happy Friday. First, I need to announce that I will be taking Monday and Tuesday off from blogging. We'll meet back here Wednesday. (My husband and I are celebrating our 25th anniversary with a trip to Kauai.)
This question came in as a comment to yesterday’s post:
"Where are the Christy Award winning books on that best-selling list? How is it that more isn't done, marketing wise, to move the best books onto the best-seller list?"
There are a numerous ways to answer that question. As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the issue, which may well differ from mine.
The bottom line answer is that the Christy Awards are geared toward the more literary-minded books in each category. It’s an established fact in both the general market and our market that literary fiction doesn’t sell very well—far less well than commercial fiction. (Unless your book becomes an Oprah pick.)
Also, we have to remember that by the time a book wins a Christy Award, that novel was released some time ago—anywhere from around eight to twenty months, depending on what month it was released the previous year. The Christy Awards have not taken hold enough in the industry to bump sales of a novel much, even though there is some special marketing for winners. Sad to say, in the end the awards are a nice kudo for the winners, but they do little to nothing for sales.
However, there’s another side to the question—an imbedded assumption that isn’t necessarily the case: that the “best books” are reflected in the Christy Awards.
Novels are entered in the Christy competition by the publisher. It’s expensive to enter a book—$175 per entry. Only publishers can enter a book—not an author. (If a book wins, the publisher also agrees to pay the Christys $1000 to help cover the marketing efforts that the organization does for the winners.) Because of the entry fee, publishers are careful about which books they enter. Some publishers can afford to enter more books than others. Sometimes publishers, knowing that a novel is more commercially-minded and not likely to place in the Christys anyway, don’t bother entering it.
In addition, there are some authors who have decided it’s best for them spiritually not to be a part of any kind of awards, and won’t allow their books to be entered.
So the Christys inevitably can’t represent all of Christian fiction in the first place. They only represent those books that the publishers chose to enter/could afford to enter, and the authors allowed to be entered.
The other issue is the age-old question of commercial versus literary—is the latter always “better?” It depends on who you ask—the cognoscenti or the hoi polloi (to use the terms that would most divide the two groups). The two types of fiction focus on different things. Commercial tends to be about plot and characterization. (Some would argue commercial focuses only on plot. I say not so, at least in the best commercial novels. The most unique plot in the world isn’t going to matter if the reader doesn’t care about the characters.) Literary tends to be about beauty of language and characterization. Again, this is a sweeping simplification that we could argue until the hereafter, and there are many books that tend to balance this divide. Some commercially-minded novels have great language. Some literary-minded novels have more plot than others. The literary lovers would argue that these novels are the ones that tend to hang around as classics, while fast-selling commercial fiction will wither over time. This ain’t necessarily so, either, as some of the fiction we term “classic” today was thought anything but literary in its day of publication.
I’m glad for the Christy Awards. I’m really happy for the winners and finalists. But we do have to understand the context in which a book might final/win, and we can’t expect these books—however well written they may be—to hit the bestseller list, because in the end they don't always appeal to the majority of readers.