Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Who's My Audience?

by Holly West

Recently, I became involved in a conversation about book awards on Twitter in response to this article written by the fabulous E.A. Aymar for ITW's THE THRILL BEGINS. The gist of this exchange was that there is a significant difference between juried awards like the Edgars and peer-decided awards like the Anthonys, which are, in the minds of some, just popularity contests. And that we, as authors should be clear and honest about the differences.

Note: The Edgars are also judged by our peers, but the process is much more rigorous, involving committees and consensus among the members of said committees. Having never been part of that process, I can't comment further, except to say that I respect it. Ed's article gives information on how the ITW awards are determined, which I assume is similar to the way the Edgars are.

Starting early in the year, you might see your author friends campaigning for various awards. You might've even seen me campaigning. Or as I prefer to call it--reminding. Nothing wrong with reminding people who've read my work of its eligibility in a given year and I appreciate it when other authors remind me of their eligibility. If I've read and enjoyed their work, I'm happy to nominate them, but I don't always keep track of what was published when so a little nudge is helpful.

Such campaigning, however, made one of the conversation's participant ask who the writers were trying to connect with--readers or their writing peers.

For the record, I've been nominated twice--once for the Left Coast Crime award for Best First Novel (MISTRESS OF FORTUNE) and once for the Anthony for Best Short Story. Those nominations meant the world to me, they really did. You can call it a popularity contest if you want, but being recognized by my peers felt really great. And after the LCC nomination, I saw a small but definite uptick in sales. Given my low sales numbers in general, that was significant to me.

And to be clear, these awards aren't just nominated and voted on by other authors. Fans (those who've attended or are registered to attend a given conference) are also eligible to nominate and vote.

But as the title of this post suggests, this little twitter conversation resulted in a different quandary for me: who, exactly, is my audience? The truth is that at this point in my career, my writer friends are my main audience. I don't mean that I'm writing solely for them or that they've been supportive (though they have been), I literally mean that they represent the majority of those who've purchased my books. For a variety of reasons, the books I've written so far have not yet managed to find an audience much broader than those who know me, and a great many of those people are authors themselves.

The point I'm trying to make is this: Maybe some day my books will reach a larger audience, but that doesn't mean I'm not proud of the one I already have. And if that means I'm sometimes honored with award nominations, damn it, I'm even prouder. Yes, I understand that there are inherent problems with the way these awards are given out, but that's not a judgment on the quality of the material itself. And quite often, you'll see the same titles on multiple shortlists, including the Edgars.

Maybe the moral of the story is not to place too much importance on awards in general, although, I ain't gonna lie, I want an Edgar someday. One thing's for sure, I'm not going to get one by writing blog posts (or engaging in Twitter conversations) complaining about or dissecting award processes. Neither will you. So get out there and write, my friends. Hustle, too.


Art Taylor said...

Nice post here, Holly—touching on some key points in the conversation about awards, peers, readership, etc. RE: a readership of other writers, I should add that someone called me a "writer's writer" one time, and I'm not sure what they meant, but I took it as a compliment. As always, I admire and respect your work--and sending you good wishes as this awards season continues to unfold, of course!

Kristopher said...

Awards are such tricky things. As you say Holly, it is nice to be recognized - don't we all want that sometimes?

But compared to the vast number of readers, those attending conferences is a small portion, so we must not get too caught up in them. I think books that appear across a number of shortlists are certainly an indication of quality, but appearing on ANY list means someone liked the book - and THAT is what matters.

Holly West said...

I hope I didn't come off as too defensive in this post. Really, I'm not too bothered by the perceptions other people have about awards or my own behavior as an author and I try not to judge what others do (although I fall short of this regularly)! What I really wanted to say was that I could spend all day fussing about what others do or don't do but ultimately, my best strategy for success of any kind is to get down to work myself. I need to remind myself of this constantly so it's a common theme in my DSD posts.

Art Taylor said...

Defensive? Not at all! And hope nothing in my comment suggested that thought. Good perspectives presented here.

Holly West said...

No, not at all. I always feel the need to explain myself. :-) As always, I thank you for your support!

E.A. Aymar said...

I love that this column addresses something most writers don't like to (or have the guts to) admit - the sense that our writing is being read chiefly by our peers, a sense largely reinforced by sales. I do think there are ways to reach an audience composed of readers, rather than other writers, but it seems (for many of us) the first steps are establishing yourself in your tribe. And then hopefully your work starts to make its way into a broader audience.

Or you're offered a zillion dollars and you're in every bookstore in America and you become a household name overnight.

I'm fine with either way, really.

Terri Bischoff said...

I think that for the majority of writers, their first core group of readers are within the crime fiction community. I would include booksellers, editors, agents, and reviewers in that grouping. If I read a book I love, then I talk about it. On facebook, on panels at conferences, on blog posts...

Sam said...

Just pleasing readers is reward enough for me. God bless.

Danny Gardner said...

I dig this, and I appreciate your candid take on awards, Holly. Indeed, we all covet in private and downplay in public. I've resolved to be as bold with it as necessary to let folks know I believe in my work and I want them to do so as well. Thanks for this post. This is good work.

- d