The Popularity Contest Writer

I’ve noticed more and more—and maybe it started with shows like American Idol, where contestants rely on voters in order to succeed—that “awards” in writing are based more on how many votes a writer can muster than whether or not their work is any good.

For example, cover art awards offered by various bloggers and reviews sites (InD’Tale, Books & Benches) almost always require a writer and/or cover artist to go begging for votes. So instead of the best cover winning based on merit and design, it’s really the most popular author or artist who wins.

Kind of like high school all over again, really.

Same for many site-based reading awards. Your book or story gets nominated and then rounds of voting begin. Then I’m required to annoy my readers with constant “please vote” messages. I don’t enjoy sending them, and they don’t enjoy receiving them.

I’m not bitter, per se. (Okay, maybe I am a wee bit.) But I’d be much more proud of an award that came from experts who’d actually evaluated the work and found mine worthy of recognition.

And I understand, certainly, that popularity matters in this industry, at least to some extent. Being popular is how you sell books, and sales = success. Or does it? Well, sales = success in the eyes of publishers at the very least. And if you’re successful by that measure, you’re more likely to be given more opportunities. More opportunities = more chances for success = more sales . . . You see how it becomes a loop.

The bottom line is: what’s popular isn’t always what’s actually good. We all know this. We’ve all picked up a best-selling book or gone to see some blockbuster film and walked away thinking, What rubbish. I don’t understand why everyone likes it. And we don’t all have the same tastes, which is part of what makes our world interesting. But apparently enough of us like some things so much that it makes a blip on the pop culture radar. It causes “buzz.” Whether that thing is any good or not.

A lot of the books in these contests are indie books by authors who churn them out and now have a mobilized following. I’m sure the authors write well, though I’ll admit I’ve read few of them. They’d tell me to get a “street team” or something, and then I could win awards via votes, too. But that’s not the point. At least not for me. The point is, an award shouldn’t be based on popular vote. Unless it’s the People’s Choice Awards, I guess. Any award worth bragging about comes from your peers and from people within the industry who have the experience to determine the good from the great.

That said, if my readers—all five or ten of them—ever want to vote for me if/when I’m nominated for a vote-based award, I won’t say no.

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