Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Are Literary Awards Worthwhile?

Share |

On the heels of the announcement of the shortlists for the Governor General's Literary Awards, complete with the possibility of $25,000 prizes for the eventual winners, it is interesting to take a look at what such purses and recognition do for authors and for the reading public. Are they worthwhile? Is it money well spent?

Having been fortunate enough to win a number of national and international awards over the years, I can say without equivocation that these kudos (and the money!) are monumentally important to writers. While my early books garnered a few nominations and then had moderate success, the constant entry onto shortlists and the winning of several prestigious prizes has pushed my latest novels into the forefront in this country and beyond. Critics notice, teachers and librarians notice, the general public notices, and the monetary rewards make a big difference in the always challenging financial struggles that the great majority of writers experience - many readers would be shocked to know how little some of their favorite authors make, even those of some renown.

Whenever anyone buys anything, they want to know that it is of high quality. All of us who read, and who have children whom we want to push to read, know the feeling (and excitement) of entering a bookstore and trying to choose our next great novel with which to spend time. The books that win and are nominated for awards are not only always up front in the stores, often with loud stickers attached to them, but any book we pick up that isn't by an author we know, or even novels by authors we are familiar with, must undergo the "is this one any good?" test. A shortlist appearance or a win says, to most of us, that the book is not just good, but probably great. The juries for most awards are made up of the best of librarians, professors or authors. It's exactly like consulting a consumer expert if we want to buy new snow tires or a toy that will help our toddler develop and not injure him or her, or having an inspector go through that house we want to buy but aren't sure about its "bones." When I encounter readers who haven't read my work, by far the best way to recommend it is to list the national awards it has won - their interest immediately rises exponentially.

When I speak to aspiring writers, all of them facing that daunting uphill climb that looks to them like Everest, I always tell them that they must spend as much time learning about the business part of writing as they do the art - don't neglect either. And the way to succeed on the business side is to build on your accomplishments ... any accomplishment. So, if you get published in a tiny journal, tell the bigger journal or magazine that you want to get published in, that you've had that (however small) success. Put that fact right up front. If the bigger journal accepts your work then use it to get to the next level. Robertson Davies was my professor at university. When I started out as a writer and had nothing of significance published, just a stack of work, I always mentioned his connection to me to agents, publishers, and editors I pursued. While that didn't get me published directly, it offered "name recognition" and it caused a few professionals to at least listen to me. That was a start - it put my foot in the door. They at least talked to me and remembered my name. Later, when I had more to offer, they listened again, and eventually began publishing my work.

Though awards obviously come later in careers, to already successful writers, they are huge building blocks for all of us trying to get to higher levels. It shouts our works to the media, spreads our titles far and wide. Here's to not only the funding of the Governor General's Literary Awards, but also the TD Canadian Children's Literature Award, The Geoffrey Bilson History Awards, The Violet Downey, The Arthur Ellis, The Ruth & Sylvia Schwartz, The Libris Awards and all those other wonderful prizes (and their shortlists) that do so much for all of us who love to write and read. Our literary world would be much poorer, in many ways, without them.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Shane Peacock

Shane Peacock is a biographer, journalist, screenwriter, playwright and novelist. He has received many honours for his writing, including the prestigious Arthur Ellis Award for Eye of the Crow, the first of his Boy Sherlock Holmes series.

Go to Shane Peacock’s Author Page