Having read most of the fiction shortlist(s) this year, I have to disagree with Denis' epithet. But I do agree that popular work needs more recognition in our book awards. In the UK , the British Book Awards are an eclectic counterpoint to the literary Booker Prize, and include among other things the Sainsbury Prize for Popular Fiction. Britain's Costa Award is also about readability, emphasising 'the most enjoyable books of the year' in five key areas [fiction, new fiction, bio, poetry and children's books. ]
The interesting thing is the Booker doesn't sell a lot of books in Britain compared to the popular stuff. This article points out that mega-selling author Katie Price's Angel Uncovered sold 54,362 copies in under a month, outselling the 2008 Booker longlist by more than 20 copies to one. Here in NZ, publishers say the Montana shortlist doesn't shift many books either because there are too many different types of books involved and the marketing effect is diluted.
Note the lack of interest in my Tea Cosy Fiction Challenge which was about buying and reading the fiction lists. The result speaks for itself! Or maybe no-one wanted a tea cosy....
Apparently, if a book is selling well while it's a Montana finalist it's because it would have done well anyway. A Montana win, on the other hand, does lead to increased sales, sometimes significantly so.
Can we have a NZ Book Awards for different genres including 'popular' fiction? Or are we too small to think about finding the sponsorship for such a thing? How about a Pak'n Save Popular Prize for Fiction? Or could we think of an award that concentrates on 'enjoyable reading' in the manner of the Costa? Or a Booker-type Prize that is only about fiction? You'd think an award that's solely about fiction would focus marketing and reader interest and lead to more sales.
Which reminds me that reading books isn't only about sales it's also about library readers who, I am guessing, are big voters in the Readers' Choice Award. I say this because these people are often HUGE READERS - getting through half a dozen books in a week -and the libraries are big promoters of books and of the Montanas. That's the only way I can explain The Blue winning the Readers' Choice given the size of its sales compared to some of the other books on the Montana shortlists last year.
Here's former publisher and arch defender of NZ books, Bookman Beattie's take on the vexed book awards issue:
The Montana New Zealand Book Awards were formed by a merger of the Montana Book Awards and the New Zealand Book Awards. The latter always had a more literary bias than the more commercial Montanas and in recent times more serious authors and publishers have occasionally voiced the wish that the two separate awards were still in existence to give those more serious writers more chance of recognition. This year the pendulum has swung strongly the other way with the more serious and literary work pushing aside the more popular. This clearly has much to do with the makeup of the judging panel headed by senior academic Dr. Mark Williams, Professor of English at Victoria University of Wellington.
And you can follow the comments on his post here.
Interestingly, Emily Perkins' medal-winning novel this year is a racy read as well as being terribly literary. Who knows it might have won a Pak'n Save Prize too ...