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Giving and Taking: Prizes: Marketing Above Quality

The Pulitzer Prizes were awarded this week, and while the work of worthy authors and reporters was acknowledged with a citation, this doesn’t mean that these books or articles or essays were the best of the year.

Prizes are marketing tools. They ostensibly recognize quality, but don’t think that the authors or reporters who were mere finalists for the prizes weren’t as good as those who won. And many other fine authors and reporters did excellent work, but weren’t acknowledged.

Pulitzers, like Oscars, and like other awards from the Nobel Prize to Grammies or even “best under 40” lists, are nothing more than ways to get noticed.

The day before the Pulitzer announcement, The New York Times ran an article on how publishers were hoping that there’d be a fiction winner this year – last year the Pulitzer committee declined to name a winner – because they rely on the award to better market the author who won. The prize is not a mark of quality. It’s a mark of recognition that can be marketed.

The winner of the fiction award, Adam Johnson, for his novel “The Orphan Master’s Son,” is certainly deserving. He wrote a terrific book. Likewise the winner of the biography award, Tom Reiss, for “The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo,” as well as others.

But awards, as you probably know, are given by committee. By people who have agendas, preferences, ideologies. I have a friend who’s an Oscar voter, who told me, for example, that he voted for “Amour,” the film written and directed by Michael Haneke, as best foreign-language film rather than best film – even though he considered it to be the overall best film of the year. That’s because he figured that a foreign-language nod was enough for “Amour,” and that it was likely to win that category easily, and that it was better to spread the awards around, and give the best-picture nod to an English-language film.

This is the kind of thinking that goes on behind awards. Quality. Well, maybe. But other things are at play.

So what does this mean for you?

Well, since awards are about marketing, concern yourself more with your own marketing, your own platform-building, and your own work. Rather than hoping to be recognized by an award – be content to be recognized by your audience.

Of course, one always dreams of a Pulitzer, an Oscar or some other trophy – but the reality is that quality isn’t the reason for an award. Marketing is.

Tags: author, prizes, publisher

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  • Anonymous

    It’s easy to lose focus on what’s really important – platform and relationships – and chase after the shiny prize. Great perspective reminder.