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What the National Book Awards tell us about the publishing industry November 19, 2009

Posted by pupfiction in Uncategorized.
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I can’t say the winners of the National Book Awards even made it to my TBR. Perhaps this is because, as the Times states,

This year’s nominees had some in the publishing industry wondering about the relevance of the National Book Awards, in part because most of the titles had sold so little and few people had heard of them. The biggest selling finalist was Mr. McCann, with “Let the Great World Spin” selling 19,000 copies in hardcover, according to Nielsen Bookscan, which tracks about 70 percent of retail sales.

19,000 copies sure pales in comparison to Twilight’s 85 million copies sold worldwide (even quartered for the sake of considering only hardcover this still far surpasses Let the Great World Spin), or Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol, which sold over one million copies (presumably hardcover) in the first day. What does this mean? Has the National Book Award become arcane and meaningless; is it an award solely for erudite academicians?

This train of thought led me to research the criteria for the National Book Award and here is what I found on their website: “Juries develop their own criteria for awarding the National Book Award and discussions are held independent of the Foundation.” Granted, the panel is composed of authors of that genre but the selection of the judges itself sounds political and elitist as well: “Judges are nominated by past National Book Award Winners, Finalists, and Judges and then selected and recruited by the Foundation’s Executive Director in consultation with the Board of Directors.” Should the finalists really be choosing the judges?

Obscure choices aside, talk at the National Book Awards was reported by a few sources to revolve around the kindle and the growing popularity of ebooks, in defamatory tones. Looks like the writers finally understand what the musicians have gone through for a while. And like the musicians, the writers need to understand, like Cory Doctorow does (and like all librarians do), the need to evolve in order to stay relevant.

On a side note and to follow-up on our previous post about the public voting on the “Best of National Book Awards Fiction”: (another lackluster choice, in my opinion), the Wall Street Journal’s Speakeasy blog reports,

Flannery O’Connor won the “Best of the National Book Awards” prize. Ten thousand people voted on the National Book Foundation’s Web site to nominate the best award-winning work of fiction in the last 60 years. The six finalists were Thomas Pynchon’s “Gravity’s Rainbow,” Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man,” “Collected Stories of William Faulkner,” “The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty” and “Flannery O’Connor: The Complete Stories.




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