Friday Five: 5 Classic TV Show Opening Narrations
Clarke Predictions

Poking at Awards: Who are awards for?

Parking the criteria discussion for a moment, here's a question that comes up time and time again: 

Who are awards for?1

If this sounds silly, well, it isn't. Like any campaign or movement, it is impossible to communicate successfully, or measure that success, without knowing who your audience is.

I'm going to hold off on the idea of what awards want to do for now (hint: next post). Instead, let's make a list - who are all the possible audiences for awards?


Ok, this is obvious, but treating all "readers" as a single audience does everyone a disservice, so let's break this down further.

Readers (Engaged)

I'm using "engaged" in the sense of "taking part in the conversation". Readers that are already actively talking about books and awards. Enthusiastic GoodReads and Amazon reviewers. Bloggers. Social media chatterers. Folks like me, and, I'm betting, simply off the back of you being here to read this, you. The danger of assuming that readers = us overlooks the vast majority of the book-buying-and-reading public, that is to say...

Readers (Unengaged)

People that buy books and read them. But then - weirdly - don't rush online to share their feelings, tweet the publisher or write reviews. They're still engaged - they may read reviews, for example - but they're not taking part in the (measurable) conversation.2 "Outside the bubble" is a rather harsh way of expressing it (at least, to us, the bubble-residents). Another is "the silent majority". This is also an awkward conflation, as it can range from someone who buys two  books a year to, say, my mom - she's single-handedly keeping independent booksellers afloat in the Midwest and reads more than any other two people I know - but she's not participating in the discussion (that is, generating even so much as a tweet).

Readers (Reluctant or Non-)

This seems silly - what's the point of a literary prize talking to people who don't read, but there are two good reasons:

1) This is the vast majority of people. This is the one-book-a-year-or-less base to the pyramid that makes for global bestsellers. If your engaged readers are the bubble and your unengaged readers are a bathtub, then this group is Lake Placid. 

2) Children (or their parents). All those stories from children of "I didn't read until I tried x" - this is the tactic to make a book the x they try.


Here I'm deliberately conflating - media can be print or online, formal or informal.3 We'll get more into the role of media next time (measuring success), but there are differences between having an audience of media qua media (when you're building up the profile of the award) or media as means of amplifying communication (when you're talking to other audiences).


After "readers", "authors" seem to be the most often-cited as an audience for awards. 


More on this next time, but there are a lot of reasons awards would have publishers as a primary or secondary audience.




All of the above - for their own sake sand because they have direct contact with readers.


A corporate term, but an important one, and a really key one here. Awards have stakeholders - those that are invested (or potentially investing) in them, and to whom the awards are beholden. For example, any award that represents a membership body - the Hugos, BFS, BSFA, r/fantasy - will include that membership as one of its key audiences. 

Even for non-membership awards, there are still stakeholder audiences - sponsors, backers, boards, partners, etc. The DGLA, The Kitschies, The Clarke Award all get money (or in-kind support) from somewhere...


Agents? (I can see that with an award for unpublished or self-published books)
Literary festivals? (Not sure - unless they are a stakeholder)
Other awards? (Intriguing, but not impossible. Getting Award B to notice the books that Award A chooses isn't without value.)

Knowing who the award is for is, incredibly important - if not the most important decision of all. An award that sees its stakeholders as the primary audience is a very different award from the one that talks to, say, non-readers. An award that sees its primary audience as authors is different from one that's intended for readers. They will (or should) have different approaches, different ideas of what "success" entails and different means of measuring that success. 

And that leads us to the next instalment. Awards should know who they're for... but what does "success" look like?

But, for now... does anyone want to play a guessing game? If you think about the major genre awards, who would say would be the primary audience for each one? (This may be different from what the award thinks its audience is.)  

1: This blog post, for instance, is for people who don't mind sentences ending that end in prepositions.

2: "Measurable": People can still talk to books to one another in the real world. But we have no way of measuring it. So essentially the Engaged readers are those taking part in the conversation that's on recordThere's also the assumption that the vast majority of the people who get really wound up and excited to talk about books in the real world also probably do so online somewhere.

3: Here we've got some overlap already - take, say, Niall Alexander. If he's chatting about a book and posts a review on the Speculative Scotsman, he's an engaged reader. If he posts that same review on, he's media. And at what point does a blog become "media"? (My hunch is, it is some combination of scale and objectivity [real or feigned] - but for now, we'll just agree that these audiences overlap, as will many others.)