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View Full Version : What is the point of genre awards?


Julian Karswell
04-04-2009, 01:09 PM
Year in, year out, the same people win the same awards for the same reasons and then strut about as though they actually mean something.

Meanwhile the most deserving and the most talented quietly plough their own furrows and only seem to achieve recognition when they are at death's door. Then, in a shameless fit of guilt, the awards mandarins suddenly toss a Lifetime Achievement Award onto their sickbed.

Last year I watched aghast as a well-connected genre official threw a very public hissy fit when he was not offered expenses to attend a convention as a guest of honour. In response he was placated with a Lifetime Achievement Award for achievements that can best be described as mediocre.

Awards processes are flawed, murky, secretive and nepotistic. Their greatest champions are those who benefit from them. Having worked as an elections officer in national elections, where strict rules over auditing and accountability are rigorously enforced, I know that every genre award is at best flawed, at worst fraudulent. Furthermore, having spent five years constructing complex models for the award of multi-milion pound contracts, I now that juried awards are even more fraudulent. The process by which Russian dictators were selected was more democratic and transparent than the method used by latter day awards panels.

Invariably those who benefit from the status quo accuse their detractors of harbouring a grudge but this simply won't do. It is a cynically and tactically deployed smoke-screen. One need only refer to books such as The Trial, 1984 and Lord Of The Flies to find examples of that way in which those who pose a threat to the establishment are demonised / persecuted / alienated.

In sport individuals and teams control their own destiny. They can fight their way to the top of the pile, thus ensuring that the best will almost always triumph. Yet in the field of supernatural horror the trophies are bestowed not upon the best selling authors or the best prose writer (factors which can be scientifically assessed), but instead upon the individual who garners the most votes or who is most favoured by the jury panel. The process is therefore wide open to abuse, whether it be from an audit perspective or any other.

It amazes me that people tolerate this appalling state-of-affairs. Readers and writers should boycott the awards until such time as major improvements are made. Every spring we are treated to the unedifying spectacle of incompetent, mediocre yet well-connected writers prancing about from message board to message board shamelessly promoting themselves, while those who are more talented but less assertive are expected to enthuse about their rivals lest they be accused of sour grapes. The award seasons is one hell of a nasty, ugly, unprincipled mess and for me completely obfuscates the more important issue of reading and writing.

Fan conventions are to my mind simply grotesque dramatisations of the absurd awards processes. The important heavyweights steer well clear of them - the seriously successful writers, directors, publishers and literary agents - leaving the self-important minor figures to lord it over the newbies and aspiring amateur writers. Apart from the bookdealers' rooms and the occasional talk by an invited guest - often ruined by a self-important official selecting him or herself as interviewee - the conventions are an utter waste of time. No real business is conducted there. Fans are encouraged to attend so that they can fawn on the award-winners who in turn only attend for reasons of vanity and comaderie.

I'll never set foot inside a genre fan convention and in the extremely unlikely event that anything I write ever gets nominated for an award, I will request its removal. Reggie Oliver's failure to win a single award while poorer but better-connected writers reap a rich harvest is all the proof I need that the whole system is riddled with the cancer of nepotism.

[Note to self: always look on the bright side of life.]

Spotbowserfido2
04-04-2009, 03:17 PM
The point of literary genre awards, the Oscars, the Emmys, and Tonys, etc. is, of course, human vanity. My biped friends tend to compete rather than simply work and play. Sorry, but I must also remind you that you drew distinctions between A-list and B-list writers in another thread. And that is a form of balloting. :eek:

hopfrog
04-04-2009, 03:41 PM
My patrons have been taking me to more and more cons these past few years, and it's been an interesting experience. I like to hang-out with writers and meet fans. I never pay any attention to the awards, so I don't know what genre awards actually are. They've never been important to me cos I see them as merely a manifestation of the commercial market, with which I have absolutely nothing to do, Outsider that I am. I love meeting writers and discussing the art of writing weird fiction -- that is way cool. I'm usually ignored by the mainstream genre writers cos of my punk transvestite attire or because I haven't yet grown-up and stopped writing adolescent Lovecraftian pastiche. I think one of my happiest moments was when the Nebula Awards came to Seattle. Almost everyone ignored me, and one famous dead writer's wife, who was initially quite friendly, became hostile when, the second day, I shew'd up wearing makeup. After the really boring awards banquet, all of the writers met up in some room, and I was standing alone wearing my punk skirt and one of my tall hats with a photo on it of Barbra in leather and chains, a publicity shot for her porno film "Cycle Sluts" in the film THE OWL AND THE PUSSYCAT. Harlan Ellison was standing some distance with a bunch of ye elite, and he saw me standing alone smiling at people passing me by -- so he came up and introduced himself and we joked about how I was a Mormon who thought that Streisand was God -- and then he took my hand and led me to his group and introduced me to another gay writer. As soon as Harlan left it became obvious that the gay dude wanted nothing to do with me, and he made some lame excuse about needing to find his partner and fled from my drag aura. After all the #### I've read about Harlan's behavior at cons, this kind action of his really touched my wither'd heart.

The New Nonsense
04-04-2009, 05:04 PM
I find these perspectives very interesting. I think authors/publishers believe readers pay far more attention to awards than they actually do. I've been a weird/horror fiction fan since I was 10, yet I pay very little attention, if at all, to genre awards. Many of my friends are also weird/horror fiction fans. They too could care less about awards. Nor can I think of a single time where an award blurb has been a deciding factor whether or not I purchased a book.

What sells me on a book is a good recommendation from people I trust, like many here on TLO. Or occasionally a great cover (I admit, I'm a sucker for great cover art). I can't tell you how many great books have been brought to my attention after someone here posted a blurb about them. A thumbs-up from a TLO member is better than any award in my book.

This all reminds me of Mark Samuels' new story "The Cannibal Kings of Horror" found in his new collection GLYPHOTECH: And Other Stories. It's a great satire of the horror writing industry. My guess is that Mark used this story to illustrate some of the hypocrisy J. Karswell mentioned above.

Nemonymous
04-04-2009, 05:14 PM
This all reminds me of Mark Samuels' new story "The Cannibal Kings of Horror" found in his new collection GLYPHOTECH: And Other Stories. It's a great satire of the horror writing industry. My guess is that Mark used this story to illustrate some of the hypocrisy J. Karswell mentioned above.


Yes, I found that story a really good one when I reviewed this book.

I don't want awards for my own writing (well, I'm not likely to get them!) but I am hungry for awards for 'Nemonymous' for the various writers' sake.

No awards system is perfect, but I am keen to see organisations at least trying to be as fair as possible. I have been outspoken in that respect (including today!). But not as outspoken as JK has been over the years. :)

Julian Karswell
04-04-2009, 05:52 PM
I've read MS's tale (he emailed it to me I forget when).

I can't decide whether the problem with the Establishment (i.e. the clique) is that it's wrong in principle, or whether it makes the mistake of becoming stagnant. They'll always be new challengers to the throne and part of the problem seems to be that those who hold power are extremely reluctant to step aside, even though fresh blood will revitalise a genre they claim to care about.

If the hoary old dictators who dominate many a society and organisation acceded control and leadership to younger turks, then modern management practises would be allowed to seed and flourish, practises that might resolve the problems which currently undermine the integrity of so-called official bodies.

But in the final analysis I do agree with you that awards are ultimately irrelevant. Ignorant mainstream observers may look at this or that writer's huge awards haul and wrongly deduce that they are therefore the best author of supernatural horror, but any serious critic familiar with the genre will be well-read enough not to be hoodwinked by such shiny trinkets. Arguably the only tangible benefit to be gleaned from bagging a genre award is that it might be a stepping-stone to landing a proper mainstream contract, but when you reflect that the likes of Stephanie Meyers, Susan Hill and JK Rowling leapt straight into the public eye after bypassing or ignoring the genre, then even that theory begins to crumble.

Perhaps we should instigate some new awards such as:

* Busiest message board whore
* Most PDF giveaways ("Free pizza with every order!")
* Cheesiest sig puff ("X is a genius and I'm not just saying that because he's my best friend")

I would be amazed if voters have read a quarter of the writers who make it on to these short and log lists. As a result they vote for people they've heard of or know, which surely renders the whole process nonsensical.

PS Publishing have removed themselves from awards contention because they possess an unfair advantage (e.g. they publish a large number of books and in working with large numbers of people earn kudos that will translate into a large nuber of votes). This is commendable. The comedian Frank Skinner stopped competing for a Perrier Award because he won so many times he decided it would be fairer to give less well known competitors a chance. It's a pity that others don't follow these examples because not only is it unhealthy for the genre, but it thwarts the aspirations of newcomers whose confidence would be significantly bolstered by a single awards win.

Mr. D.
04-04-2009, 08:11 PM
Don't give them any ideas. Remember, if the Establishment had any principles it would no longer be the Establishment. Don't be suprised if your ideas said in joke become real awards someday. (and you won't get any credit for it either) My limited understanding on awards is that most people aren't limber enough to pat themselves on the back so they have to get someone else to do so for them. I always keep in mind that a pat on the back is merely inches from a kick in the butt.

Odalisque
04-05-2009, 09:29 AM
The point of literary genre awards, the Oscars, the Emmys, and Tonys, etc. is, of course, human vanity. My biped friends tend to compete rather than simply work and play. Sorry, but I must also remind you that you drew distinctions between A-list and B-list writers in another thread. And that is a form of balloting. :eek:

I agree entirely. Personally, I hate award-giving. That's the main reason why I refused to receive my degree from a princess (although, I will admit, not an A-list princess) and had it sent to me through the post instead. ;)