Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Awards and the elusive reader

Barbara here. Am I in the mood to rant or crow today? Well, a little of both, actually. Last Thursday night, Crime Writers of Canada held its annual awards dinner at the Arts and Letters Club in Toronto, at which the winners of the 2015 Arthur Ellis Awards were announced and feted. The Arthurs are juried awards administered by Crime Writers of Canada and given to the best in Canadian crime writing in seven categories. You can look up the winners here.

My latest Inspector Green novel, NONE SO BLIND, was a finalist in the Best Novel category, and although I didn't win, I was thrilled to be shortlisted from among 74 submitted books, and felt like a winner already. The Inspector Green series has been shortlisted four times out of ten books, and has won the award twice, which is none too shabby. Not too many series can boast that record, especially if they're written by a woman, but that's a rant for another day.

Being a finalist or winner of a prestigious award accords the writer a level of gravitas and respect that is hard to quantify. It makes them more likely to be reviewed, considered by libraries, invited to festivals and events, and so on. But does it add to their book sales? In the case of highly publicized literary awards like the Giller, very likely. In the case of the Arthur Ellis, probably not. And that is largely because the awards get almost no media attention. Since the winners were announced five days ago, I have tried to track down all the media coverage, and it is dismal. CBC had an announcement on their book page of their website, but only the truly persistent would likely ever track it down. Quill & Quire had an announcement (thank you, Quill & Quire, for your continued support of all things literary and Canadian!), which means the list will at least be read by book industry people although not likely the reading public.

But from the large daily newspapers such as the National Post, the Globe and Mail – which only a few days ago wrote that opinion piece on starving artists that Rick Blechta referred to– the Toronto Star, Ottawa Citizen, Edmonton Journal, and the major dailies in Vancouver, Winnipeg, Halifax, or Calgary... not a peep. I hasten to add that this is not for want of trying. For years, Crime Writers of Canada has conscientiously sent out press releases to a long list of media, not only of the short lists but of the winners, but rarely do the major media pick them up. As with many things these days, it is left to online bloggers, specialty online magazines, and mystery book sites to carry the flag.

When I do book signings in malls, I meet committed mystery readers who are hard pressed to name a single Canadian mystery writer. There were 74 books submitted in the Arthur Ellis Best Novel category this year alone, and there are at least 200 active mystery writers in Canada, but the public can be forgiven for thinking there is no indigenous writing community, for who ever hears about it?

Apart from a few big stars and award winners, Canadian writers are becoming increasingly invisible. The Writers' Union of Canada recently conducted a survey of its members' earnings, and determined that writers' incomes are dropping; similar studies have documented comparable drops in the UK and US. The average Writers' Union member earns about $12,000 a year. I remember thinking that's higher than I expected, until I realized it was income reported by members of the union. The union costs nearly $200 a year, so many marginal or beginning authors wouldn't even join.

Okay, so that's the rant; now the crow. Readers are learning about new authors through online blogs, Goodreads, and other internet social media avenues all the time, but another way for authors to connect with readers is through festivals, conferences, and other grassroots book events such as Word on the Street, which is held in several big cities across the country. Ottawa, to its shame, has not held a Word on the Street in over ten years, but finally, thanks to the vision and hard work of a local group, Ottawa has a new full-day outdoor festival of the written word. The first annual Prose in the Park is being held this Saturday June 6, at Parkdale Park beside Parkdale Farmers' Market from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Here are some of the highlights.  As of this writing, 150 Canadian authors will be there selling their books and talking to the public, 20% of them Francophone. Fifteen author panels and numerous special events and readings will be held, by everyone from poets to crime writers. I myself am on a mystery panel at 3:30 called With Criminal Intent, along with fellow crime writers Brenda Chapman, Vicki Delany, Dave Whellams, Robin Harlick, and Erika Chase. Our books will all be for sale in the Capital Crime Writers Tent.

It's a great new initiative, and a wonderful chance for those who love the written word to learn about the talent in their own country. In some cases, right on their own doorstep. Pray for good weather, and come browse, chat, and meet the artistic creators who reflect on and chronicle your own life and country. That's the best part about the day. The second best part is that it's free!


Unknown said...

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Eileen Goudge said...

What an honor to be nominated, Barbara. As they say in Hollywood, a nomination is a win.