Saturday, January 19, 2008

Since The Edgars Are Steeped in Controversy…

again, it seems appropriate to explain why I did not enter the Arthur Ellis Award.

Yes, Suspicious Circumstances was eligible for the main Canadian crime fiction prize. I could have entered it as a first novel.

However, the Arthur Ellis Award doesn’t have the profile of the Edgars or Daggers, so I’m not sure how much influence it carries in terms of book sales or publisher interest. Therefore, that wasn’t a factor for me.

Instead, it boiled down to considerations about practicalities and realism.

I would have had to purchase 5 copies of my book to enter. Since the paperback never appeared when scheduled, that meant purchasing 5 hardcovers.

We’ll generously round that down to a cost of $25 Canadian per book, plus shipping.

Then I would have had to package them up again and include the entry fee and ship them to Toronto.

$125 for the books, $25 entry fee, ship the books to Calgary, then ship to Toronto…

Let’s call that an investment of $200. In reality, probably more, but let’s go with $200.

This is where practical considerations come to the fore. $200. It’s half the amount I’ve spent so far on review copies for What Burns Within and The Frailty of Flesh. With two books out this year, the $400 I’ve spent so far won’t be the end of those costs.

It’s enough money to put a half page ad in Crimespree Magazine.

It’s the cost of registering for Noircon or Bouchercon.

It’s almost half the cost of flying to the US to go to Noircon.

Almost enough to join two of the organizations eager to have me as a member…

Well, you get the idea. In every decision an author makes – from attending a convention to joining an organization to entering an award (if they have to pay themselves) to doing a book tour or creating promotional gizmos – has to be assessed based on anticipated return for invested cost.

Ultimately, I didn’t feel entering the Arthur Ellis Awards was a justifiable expense this year. Now, I realize some might take that as a slam on the award and its lack of significance. It isn’t really meant as such. If I could be nominated or win, I wouldn’t be complaining…

And that’s where a healthy dose of realism comes into the equation. Last year, at the award nominations announcement, the presenters raved about all the wonderful unpublished novels, so many they gave extra titles honourable mentions.

And then they lamented over the best first category and the appalling lack of quality submissions.

It irritated me to no end, for two reasons.

1. It undermines the achievement of every nominee who did make the list, because it’s like saying the eligible candidates were so shitty that these were the ones that didn’t suck quite as much, and
2. One of the books I had pegged to be nominated – and win – didn’t even make the list.

I mean, maybe that’s okay. Clearly Harcourt loved Dirty Sweet as much as I did – they’re only publishing it in the US this year.

But that, more than anything, persuaded me that I’d be throwing my money away on entering, because when it comes to Canada it really does seem to be more about tone and style than about quality writing.

In other words, dark is not in.

And simply put, even Suspicious Circumstances was probably too dark. My feelings on it are such that I didn’t enter any short stories this year either.

This year, I have my money on Sean Chercover. I hope I’m not jinxing him by saying it. And I truly would have been honoured to lose to Sean.

But the simple reality is, in the midst of dealing with things here, plans to move, and book promotion for the two titles coming out this year I had to be practical.

The nice thing about not being up for anything is I don’t have to go through any angst at all when the nominations are announced. I can just be sincerely happy for my deserving friends.

(And I’ve waited until after the deadline to enter so that nobody will try to persuade me to change my mind. It is the right decision.)


Grant McKenzie said...

Wouldn't your publisher submit the five copies, Sandra? I'm sure they would have been interested in having the book nominated.
Although when my young-adult novella was published (albeit by a tiny Canadian publisher) getting any help with publicity or marketing was impossible.

Sandra Ruttan said...

No. Not all publishers do.

And for the record, the fact that there's now an entry fee is really going to deter entries, particularly in the short story category. Just a year ago the CWC raised costs for author members - an increase from $69 to $99 per year. The overwhelming bulk of that money seems to go to the website and Toronto-based events, which do me little good where I live. I knew as much about what was going on reading blogs as I did being a member.

Follow on the heels of that the entry fees for the Arthur Ellis, and the awards run the risk of being a showdown between every self published* person with enough money to go in there, while small presses that are already struggling will be faced with tough choices because they have to pay for every book they want to enter. (*She says, knowing not all self published books are bad, but still, this is a serious concern if the legit publishers have to make tough choices because they can't afford it.)

A common problem talked about here is the lack of marketing for Canadian books, because there's no money for it. If there's no money to market already, how do we expect small publishers to come up with more money to submit for awards? And what of the magazines? Same thing.

Since SC was published by a small US publisher a Canadian award doesn't mean much to them. But the simple reality is, with only so much money to go around, obviously even US publishers are going to submit for the awards with more profile instead of a regionalized one.

Josephine Damian said...

Sandra, I had no idea these awards had these entry fees (don't know why I didn't consider that when every other contest seems to) plus all those copies - thanks for the heads up.

Speaking on contests, when-oh-when will the Spinetinger awards be announced?

Sandra Ruttan said...

Josephine, I don't think the Edgar, Dagger, etc. do have entry fees, but I could be mistaken.

The Spinetingler winners will be announced at the end of the month. I'd hoped to have the physical awards in my hands in time for that, but I'm not sure if that will happen...

John McFetridge said...

Wow, Sandra, I always appreciate the mention of my work, thanks.

One thing about the Arthur Ellis Awards, though, they will accept books from any publisher, even self-published and they accept stories from on-line only publications like Shred of Evidence and so on. As you say, they charge a fee for all this, but maybe it's a step in the right direction. It's all a process and I'm glad now that it's at least a public discussion.

Who knows, maybe someday there'll be a Canadian winner that's not a cozy.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Well, I'm not keen about the fees. I see it as a major deterrent to the small publishers in this county and magazines that are barely getting by as it is.

But that's my 2 cents.

And indeed, maybe some day, a book will win that isn't a cozy. It does happen in the best novel category, anyway, but in those cases it always seems to be a book published by a major publisher, the author having achieved international success - Peter Robinson, Rick Mofina.

The lack of realistic & gritty crime fiction set in this country remains a huge disappointment for me, but I am delighted you broke new ground with your work.

Eileen said...

The decision of where to spend money is brutal. As I count down to release day I keep swinging wildly between thinking I should do (and spend more) and trying to hold onto sanity.