Now that it’s been printed in the official Mystery Writers of America Annual, I can share the fact that I spent 2016 as an Edgar Awards judge. Due to an iron-clad NDA and personal threat of violence from Margery Flax, I can’t go into detail about the process we went through, but I did want to take a minute to talk about how reading almost every single hardcover book from 2016 that wasn’t a debut changed me as a reader and as a writer.
I read a lot, and I like to think I read widely, but there’s nothing like a tsunami of books to challenge one with the rather staggering amount of prejudices once has in one’s reading. I’d always known there were blind spots in my reading preferences – namely historical fiction and foreign fiction – but I quickly realized there were a LOT of books that triggered various prejudices in me and that I would have put down under ordinary circumstances. But when I signed up for the judging gig, I signed up to read at least part of every book I was assigned and it was a revelation. I found historical books I loved and foreign books I loved (still think Scandinavian stuff is overwrought for the most part though) and books by authors of color and books across every other corner of humanity and experience. I hope to carry this new-found love of broad reading into the years I’m not forced to read outside my limited exposure.
Exposure is another thing I was always aware of last year. Anyone who thinks there is a large-scale conspiracy to keep good novels unpublished has never been fully confronted with the reality of just how many books are published by major publishers every year. It’s. Staggering. And that was just the stuff up for the best novel award. Getting a good book published is not hard; getting a good book noticed, though, that’s where the trouble is.
This is why it’s important for readers and writers alike to use every tool at their disposal to help spread the word about books we love: reviews, blog posts, stars on websites, giving books as gifts, reading for awards, giving awards, etc. I used to be a snob about the amount of awards there were in the crime fiction field, but every award is a chance for books that may have been looked over to get their chance to shine. This is where organizations like MWA shine for their authors.
In addition to making sure they get published under good conditions, MWA and it’s volunteer army have dedicated themselves to spreading the word about the genre and its authors. Through regional MWA university panels, library meetings, and sponsorships with various festivals, among other activities, they give their authors – from bestseller on down to debut small press authors – a shot at desperately-needed exposure. And I’m happy to be a part of it.
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I crave a traditional publishing career, one many say may be dead or dying. That’s a discussion that’s been beaten to death and not one I want to indulge today, but regardless of career goals or ambitions, we’re all better served with a robust readership with a robust voice and I’d recommend all authors look into what MWA can offer them and their career.
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