I’m a sucker for book awards. Ever since I read Island Of The Blue Dolphins as a child and saw that “Newberry Medal” on the cover I was programmed. A gold seal on a book meant a good story. To this day I hunt down the Edgar, Man Booker, Orange Prize and Pulitzer short lists every year, searching for that fantastic read.
I’ve been very open about not preferring Inspirational Fiction as a genre as I find it too didactic in general and feel the quality often suffers from its inherently narrow market strictures. Over the past two years as I’ve come to know more authors of Inspirational Fiction I’ve read more of it and even fallen in love with some terrific examples of the genre. The book I hold in high esteem as being the example of what good Inspirational Fiction can be is Catherine Marshall’s Christy.*
I am apparently not alone in my esteem for this novel, because when the heads of the Christian Publishing Industry decided to launch their Award for excellence in Christian Fiction they named that Award the “Christy”, using the original logotype from the novel’s jacket design debossed on a bronze background.
When I was browsing the Nashville Public Library’s ebook selections I saw a book that intrigued me, backed away when I realised it was Inspirational Fiction but then that Christy sticker on the cover art caught my eye. My slavish devotion to award-winning books trumped my prejudice and I downloaded it that very moment.
It was a dreadful book–poorly written, poorly edited, ploddingly plotted. I have serious doubts that the book would have made it past the acquisition editor at a secular publishing house, let alone that it would have been singled out by an award committee for the industry’s highest honour. I returned the book early and angrily and thought no more about it–until this year’s Christy Awards shortlist books were announced.** I looked (in vain) for my personal pick–Robynn Tolbert’s Star Of Justice and recognised none of the other titles. What was up with the Christy?
Turns out…The Christy Award is NOT a “book award” in the traditional sense. It is A LICENSING AGREEMENT!
I should know. I negotiated, edited, issued and managed HUNDREDS of licensing contracts, sought licensing partnerships and oversaw payment on those contracts on a quarterly basis. Say you run a t-shirt company and you want to put Care Bears on your t-shirts. You get in touch with their representative, send anywhere from a dozen to two-dozen of your product to that person along with an estimate of the amount of money you expect the shirts to make. If they approve you, you give them a portion of their percentage upfront–anywhere from $500-$10,000. In return they send you a “style guide” that has the specific art you have to use, along with all the Pantone colours and the regulations about how big their art has to be. “The Care Bear Must appear on at least 45% of the exposed area of the front of the shirt.” That kind of thing. You make the product and ostensibly sell more shirts with Care Bears on them than you would if they were plain shirts.
That, my friends, is how the Christy “Award” works. Unlike legitimate Book Awards which traditionally request one copy of the submitted work, the Christy requests SEVEN copies, along with a submission fee of $175. (In Contrast the Newberry Award and Man Booker Prize require no entry fee.) If you WIN a Christy you award you get…to pay $1000 for the honour of putting the Christy Medal on your book cover so that your book sells more copies.
That, my friends, is a licensing arrangement. It is NOT an award. The Christy was established by Christian PUBLISHERS; the criteria are prohibitive for the growing number of self-published and small-press books in the Inspirational Field. Since all the Christian fiction I actually liked last year was either self-pubbed or small press is it any wonder they’re not on here? What person running their business on a shoestring–or at least a strand of worsted weight yarn–can pony up what amounts to nearly $1500 once the books and postage are added to the entry fee and the due bill for the winner?
I’ve spent two hours combing through other awards; some like the Man Booker Prize do charge an advertising fee from the winning publisher as well as a required contribution to the prize pool. But they do in turn reward a cash prize far greater than the required submission so if you win you are not actually in the hole for doing so. Others require nothing more than one or two copies of the book in question along with a neatly typed form.
As a reader who regularly purchases books because they’re Award Winners I feel duped. I feel like this is nothing more than a cadre of cronies looking for a new angle to market their product.
I also feel great pity for the Christy winners and short-listed authors because they’re literally being sold a bill of goods. Literally. If you “win” the Christy you get a little sticker for your book cover and a bill for $1000. The idea, of course, is that “award” will net you increased sales. Pretty much like any other licensing arrangement.
What follows is the statement with which I posted this to Facebook. I realise after some comments that this information wasn’t clear in the entry itself, so I’m adding it in an effort to prevent further confusion.
[T]his post is not [intended to be] a reflection on the quality of this year’s selected titles. I feel like as a person who does NOT write books that would be considered I was in the unique position to write this post.
[I] haven’t read any of this year’s books. I have two from last year in my TBR folder. I want to stress repeatedly that the way this licensing agreement is run does NOT mean that the approved licensees are bad books….not at all. It DOES mean however that scores of good, even great, books aren’t considered because of the prohibitive terms of the licensing agreement.
*Though this is almost universally acknowledged as the pinnacle of the genre, so much so that the awards of the genre are named for it, there is still no e-book version of the original novel available. Thomas Nelson has carved up the original novel into episodes and remarketed those as Young Adult books for the e-reader market. I’ve written about this before; the problem still exists.
** This link is accidentally for the 2012 winners. I’m looking for an official shortlist that doesn’t appear on other blogs.
And here it is….