By Barbara D’Amato
A couple of days ago I got home after attending the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Awards in New York and then the Malice Domestic Convention’s Agatha Awards in Washington, D.C. The events were fun for attendees, rewarding to the nominees and winners, and in my opinion, good for the mystery/crime writing field.
There are always complaints. The wrong novel won. It’s just a popularity contest. Plenty of wonderful books didn’t make the list. Even “Why do we bother?” or “It’s fixed anyway.”
The Edgars and the Agathas represent two different types of awards. The Edgars, like the Shamus and Thrillerwriters, is a judged award. The Agathas slate, like the Bouchercon’s Anthony, is arrived at by nominations sent in by people who are registered to attend, and then after arriving the attendees vote for the final winner.
Over the years I’ve served on several Edgar Awards committees—the short story a couple of times and chaired it once, the best novel at least twice, best play, best fact crime a couple of times and chaired it once, best several others. The last time I served on the best novel committee, we received 554 books. Okay, I’m easily caught. But one thing I can tell you, and that is, it’s not fixed.
Sean Chercover’s good post “Confessions of an Edgar Judge . . .” got me thinking about the misunderstandings people have about these awards. Most judges are like Sean, earnest and fair. I haven’t run into any like the one Paul Guyot referred to in his comment, who said he knew what was good, so he didn’t need to read the books. People being people, there probably are a few like that, or at least some who don’t give a fair try to books of a type they don’t like. However, people are all we have available to use. One of the big boons of judged awards is that books that haven’t made bestseller lists are often nominated. This gives recognition to writers who get far too little. Check the lists of winners for the last few years and I think you will see that few big bestsellers are actually nominated. I just love it when a writer who has received little attention wins an award and proceeds dazed and delighted to the stage.
The convention-vote awards are criticized for being popularity contests. Well, duh. However, they are popularity contests in the sense that readers have actually enjoyed the books. Here again, the nominees and winners are usually not the big bestsellers, and aren’t the bestseller lists the real Big Popularity Contests? And frequently criticized for being fixed?
There are other awards arrived at somewhat differently, like the Macavity, or the Love Is Murder Lovie. But they all do one thing—give recognition to authors who might otherwise receive none. I don’t agree with the people who wish awards didn’t exist.
If you have suggestions about improving the processes, great. Let’s hear them.