Quills are plucked

Quill pen from www.writerogers.comWhen the Quill Awards were announced in 2005, I wrote in The Dallas Morning News that they seemed relatively pointless. Of course, the Quills were given a high-minded purpose by Reed Business Information, the owner of Publishers Weekly and the creator of the Quills Literacy Foundation, which oversaw the awards. The Quills were intended to promote literacy in America and celebrate the best in publishing. They accomplished this by being, more or less, the book industry's late and ineffectual attempt to give authors some media splash by crashing the TV awards ceremony game. And the Quills' prize selections played out like the People's Choice Awards of books.

That's not a recommendation. Why? Because we already have a popularity contest for books -- they're called the bestseller lists. And as for the "Oscars" of books, take your pick: the Pulitzers, the American Book Awards, the National Book Awards, the National Book Critics Circle Awards, the Man Booker Prize, the Orange Prize, the various PEN Awards (Nabokov, Hemingway, Malamud) and so on and on.

So the Quills seemed perfectly unnecessary. Now they're dead. Reed has pulled the Quills.

For more on what prizes mean in publishing, follow the jump.

Here's what book/daddy wrote back in 2006:

These days, who wouldn't agree with Jason Cowley's point in the Guardian that pop culture has gone prize-crazy? He's elaborating on the argument made last year by John English in The Economy of Prestige: Prizes, Awards and the Circulation of Cultural Value.

It's not just that Hollywood found prize shows cheap to televise. Publishers know that when a reader is staring at a wall of books in a store, any little thing to help tip the purchase choice can help: the jacket design, the blurbs, the book's placement in the store and -- lookee there! -- the "belly band" and the "gold seal," those attention-getting devices on the cover that convey "acclaim" and "significance."

More than any critic or well-meaning organization, publishers have helped inflate the profile of book awards, although there's relatively little evidence they influence sales much (beyond the Pulitzer). And I'm certain the vast majority of readers couldn't distinguish among the American Book Award, the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award and the American Kennel Club. I once jokingly asked a leading book editor that if a Pulitzer could actually increase sales by, say, 10,000 to 50,000 copies, had anyone ever thought of bribing a judge?

He laughed derisively. If I'm going to bribe anyone, he said, I'd bribe Oprah's producer.

In short, awards tend to spring from idealistic intentions ("promoting excellence" gets used a lot in award press releases). The best thing any award can do? Give a small bit of attention to an overlooked and undermarketed yet decidedly worthy endeavor. Other than that, they often end up inspiring betting pools on the Man Booker, Stephen King insulting critics at the National Book Awards and the entire "competitive sport" culture that English analyzes in his study.

February 26, 2008 10:36 AM | | Comments (0)

Categories:

Leave a comment

Recommending

Best of the Vault

THE REVIEWS: 

Pat Barker, Frankenstein, Cass Sunstein on the internet, Samuel Johnson, Thrillers, Denis Johnson, Alan Furst, Caryl Phillips, Richard Flanagan, George Saunders, Michael Harvey, Larry McMurtry, Harry Potter and more ...

ESSAY: 

Big D between the sheets -- Dallas in fiction

ESSAY:  

Reviewing the state of reviewing

ESSAY:  

9/11 as a novel: Why?

ESSAY:  

How can critics say the things they do? And why does anyone pay attention? It's the issue of authority.

The disappearing book pages:  

Papers are cutting book coverage for little reason

Thrillers and Lists:  

Noir favorites, who makes the cut and why

more

Blogroll

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by book/daddy published on February 26, 2008 10:36 AM.

Not drowning, not yet. was the previous entry in this blog.

Thrilled is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

AJ Ads


AJ Blogs

AJBlogCentral | rss

culture
About Last Night
Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Artful Manager
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
blog riley
rock culture approximately
critical difference
Laura Collins-Hughes on arts, culture and coverage
Dewey21C
Richard Kessler on arts education
diacritical
Douglas McLennan's blog
Dog Days
Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
Flyover
Art from the American Outback
Life's a Pitch
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
Mind the Gap
No genre is the new genre
Performance Monkey
David Jays on theatre and dance
Plain English
Paul Levy measures the Angles
Real Clear Arts
Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture
Rockwell Matters
John Rockwell on the arts
Straight Up |
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude

dance
Foot in Mouth
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Seeing Things
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...

jazz
Jazz Beyond Jazz
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
ListenGood
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Rifftides
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...

media
Out There
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Serious Popcorn
Martha Bayles on Film...

classical music
Creative Destruction
Fresh ideas on building arts communities
The Future of Classical Music?
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
On the Record
Exploring Orchestras w/ Henry Fogel
Overflow
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
PianoMorphosis
Bruce Brubaker on all things Piano
PostClassic
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Sandow
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Slipped Disc
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds

publishing
book/daddy
Jerome Weeks on Books
Quick Study
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera

theatre
Drama Queen
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off
lies like truth
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world

visual
Aesthetic Grounds
Public Art, Public Space
Another Bouncing Ball
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
Artopia
John Perreault's art diary
CultureGrrl
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary
Modern Art Notes
Tyler Green's modern & contemporary art blog
Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.