Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Aurora Awards: An Analysis

As mentioned in my SFContario2 post, I was fortunate enough to be at the Aurora awards this year. They were a somber, dignified affair, held in a stately hall with food service provided by genetically enhanced monkeys. No, not really, but there was good food before the ceremony and lots of laughs during.

Robert J. Sawyer was kind enough to post the results for best novel (called best long form in English officially) on his blog, and looking them over got me to thinking: How much does the size of a book's publisher determine it's award chances?

Let me demonstrate using the recent awards. The following list is taken from Mr. Sawyer's blog:

1st: Watch by Robert J. Sawyer (Penguin Canada)
2nd: Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay (Penguin Canada)
3rd: Stealing Home by Hayden Trenholm (Bundoran)
4th: Destiny’s Blood by Marie Bilodeau (Dragon Moon)
5th: Black Bottle Man by Craig Russell (Great Plains)

Notice a pattern? The top two entries were both published by Penguin Canada, one of the largest if not the largest publisher in Canada. Both books had strong advertising pushes. I've seen ads for Under Heaven all over the place, and Watch even had subway ads on the TTC.

Let's look at the others:

Bundoran Press lists only seven authors on its website, and the only one I've heard of is Hayden Trenholm. There are two reasons I've heard of him. One, Robert J. Sawyer has mentioned him on his blog and on Facebook. Two, I sat beside Hayden and across from his wife at the awards ceremony. Both seem like nice people, but I didn't have an extremely long chat with either.

Dragon Moon Press has in excess of thirty authors, and I actually know at least three, including the lovely Marie Bilodeau who's novel came in at number 4 on the ballot.

Great Plains is an interesting case. Unlike Bundoran or Dragon Moon they appear both less and more specialized. Unlike the other two, Great Plains doesn't appear to focus on one or two genres, hence the less, but they are focused on publishing Prairie writers, therefore being more specialized on whom they will accept submissions from. Interesting.

Of the three smaller publishers, I've since advertising for a few Bundoran Press items, such as Fall From Earth by Matthew Johnson, but not as much from Dragon Moon and absolutely nothing from Great Plains. Now, it's entirely possible I saw advertising for Dragon Moon and ignored it as I'm already familiar with a few of their authors and therefore the advertising has become invisible to me.

So what does this all tell me? Advertising budgets have a greater influence on the Aurora then some might think. The same with readership. Both Sawyer and Kay sell well from what I understand, in Canada and elsewhere. Heck, their names on a book are enough to get people to pick them up, and rightly so as both are good writers.

And this is a trend. In the ten years previous to this year's ceremony, all of the awards for best novel but one have been from major publishers, such as Tor, Daw, Penguin, etc.

Part of me wishes I could get my hands on the raw data involved and compare sales figures, advertising dollars, and awards votes to see the correlation. It would be interesting to see if a stable ratio would emerge, a sort of "award per dollar" calculation as it were.

That all being said, what conclusion can be drawn from this? The bigger your publisher the better your chances at an award. More voters are likely to have read your work and will vote for it. And how does one get to be published by a big house? Write a good book and have a whole hell of a lot of luck!

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