“Award Winning” Malarkey


I feel the need to vent a bit about the use of  “award winning” and “best selling” by too many self-published authors of fiction.

I ran across one such author this morning, where I don’t remember. I saw her self-description as “award winning” and investigated. Turns out her first novel had been deemed “best of 2010” by the readers of one eBook review website. I read the “rules” of the site and learned that any reviewer who couldn’t rate the novel better than 3 simply returned the novel without any review. This, it seems, is tantamount to to saying “if you think this book sucks, we don’t want to hear about it.” Well, I read an excerpt. I’m not talking.

Same for the abuse of “best selling.” I don’t want to hear about Amazon’s many categories and subcategories, each of which have their own rankings. Or the small indie eBook sites that designate their own “best sellers.” The bottom line is the same. Too many “best sellers” really aren’t.

I remember many years ago going to a supermarket with my mother. She was buying some household cleaner product or peanut butter or something, and one of the packages said “new and improved!” on it – maybe there were TWO!! exclamation points. I asked her what made it “new and improved!” She said, “the package is new and improved.”

That’s what this is. Packaging. Phony packaging.

Even the New York Times Bestseller List suffers its own peculiar brand of artifice. When you ask an entire industry of publishing professional how the NYT defines a bestseller and none of them can give you the same definitive answer, you have to suspect something is rigged. When a novel appears on the list and is on the bargain table two months later, you just know it.

None of this is good for publishing. When we have to fight through bullshit coming from the NEW AND IMPROVED! author himself – the old adage about judging a book by its cover assumes a deeper meaning.


29 Responses to ““Award Winning” Malarkey”

  1. I’m so glad I’m not the only one who feels this way. It’s disingenuous and manipulative, neither of which are endearing.

  2. 2 Matt

    Thanks for this award-winning post, Pete!!

  3. It’s the emperor’s new clothes all over again. These ubiquitous best seller claims truly bug the crap out of of me. How much? As an avid reader, I’ve long perceived any quality on the NYT bestseller list to be purely accidental (and I read genre fiction!). As for the flood of overly-specific, omni-present subcategory “bestseller” lists and “bizarre” awards no one’s ever heard of? Don’t make me laugh. On second thought, go ahead. I could use a good chuckle.

    • 4 Pete

      I’m giving this the Best Comment I’ve Seen This Afternoon Award.

      Put it in your CV.

  4. 5 Steffan Piper

    I get many a request to review folks’ Print-On-Demand / Self-Published ‘masterpieces’ and often times the emails are loaded with sentences written in ALL CAPS and then end up later in bold elsewhere or in BOLD RED to ice the cake. And always, without fail, the lines “award winning,” “best seller,” and “critically acclaimed” always find themselves implanted ad naseum as if that’s going to sway me or make me take note.

    Most of it is my own fault as it’s the sorry misfortune of having been an Amazon Top Reviewer for about a decade now. My email is well-circulated and for everyone that I say “no thank you” to, there are ten that I just have to ignore. Most of the time, when I do respond, they get pretty nasty and heated and tell me I’m a fool for not just accepting a free copy. I’ve learned in reviewing, nothing is free.

    In the back of Poets & Writers magazine, there’s a compiled list of all the literary awards and prizes available for each quarter of the year, including the Pen Faulkner, the Pulitzer, etc. Every year I’ve seen these awards grow and grow, all require a fee for submission and now it seems anyone can have a literary award named after themselves with just the basic amount of enterprise.

    The only thing I think agents are good for anymore are possibly mentoring young authors who have little idea of the Internet or outside world, but that’s just me.

    • 6 Pete

      Oh my God, you poor man. You must be swamped with dreck. Thanks for visiting, Steffan!

  5. I think these kind of tactics, along with “false positive” reviews by friends and family will, if not bring down, at least hurt this new era of self-publishing.

    I get the feeling that if I don’t give a 4-5 star rating to books written by friends they will be hurt by it. So, therefore, I mostly don’t participate. But what’s wrong with a 3 star rating? That means it isn’t the next great piece of literature but it’s an enjoyable read. Nothing wrong with that. (Just my luck, by the time my books are out we might all have outgrown our shyness! 😉 )

    Whenever I see a book will all 4-5 star reviews, I am leery. Not even the “greats” received ratings that consistent. It’s just not possible.

    • 8 Pete

      Ohhhh, I dunno, Ed. Some of the top selling thriller writers on Amazon, etc. get scads of 5 star reviews, with superlatives in caps and many exclamation points. Fans are great, but they’re no better than family if they lack critical capacity.

      • Eh, how did “Editor” get up there as my moniker? Especially since I typed “will” instead of “with.” 😉

        As I said, I’m very leery of books with only good reviews. Sends up an instant red flag. But I think everything has turned into a big popularity contest. The person with the most followers wins. Quantity wins out over quality.

        This problem will reach critical mass at some point in the future. I can’t imagine how it will manifest but I have no doubt that it will. Lawsuits, perhaps? 😉 Might not get to that point but it is definitely a problem in the self-publishing business.

  6. 10 Mayor Biggie

    As an often times awarded journalist and photographer I understand the sentiment completely, but I believe we have always lived in a world where buyer beware is the operating standard, thus I don’t really care how one attempts to differentiate himself from the din of others. The cost to the consumer is far less than the cost to the producer should statements of greatness be recognized as the proclamations of a snake oil salesman. Also, as to award winning, it’s very gratifying to have won those awards, but they don’t mean a thing to the standard of quality of the next project or story, they are only a testament to a standard I have met on several occasions in the past and hope to continue into the future. So when a buyer buys off the notion of award winning as if it is the equivalent of say something like a Consumer Reports endorsement, I understand the real cost to be paid will not be that consumer, but the producer of said lackluster product. It’s the marketplace and it has always been this way and in every industry.

  7. Where’d Steffan go? I wanted to ask him to review my book.

  8. Oh come on. It’s what you were all thinking.

  9. I was going to argue with you about this then I saw my name in your writer friends list and got all misty eyed.

  10. What I’d love to know is how can a book, not even released yet, can make a ‘best seller list’?

    • Pre-orders and wholesale orders.

    • 18 Michael Jennings

      How can one make the “Best Seller” list before publication? Easy. Just follow my lead. Open up your Word document, and in big bold letters across the top, type in the following words: BEST SELLER LIST.
      Then, underneath that, you type in the name of your novel (or whatever).
      See, you’re masterpiece is now on a “Best Seller” list. Right, Pete.

  11. For what it’s worth, I tend to not even notice the “award-winning” or “best-seller” labels on books. But I also don’t read many books or authors when they’re right out of the gate. I’ve had friends and family recommend writers to me and I often love the work and go back and read more of it. Reviews are helpful to get a sense of whether I have any interest at all in a story, but the little marketing phrases do absolutely nothing for me.

  12. And yes, I understand that this was directed at self-published books, but I figure if I don’t notice them on big-pub books, I certainly won’t notice or care if they’re on self-pubbed books.

  13. First let me say, Pete, this was a great blog post (with great comments). Thank you for raising the issue and making a point to shed light on this dishonest activity.

    My genuine concern is about less-than-honest representations occuring on BOTH sides of the table.

    I always remind folks that I am a reader before I am an agent. (and I always will be)

    Quotes don’t carry much weight with me as a reader (unless I know the person and like their tastes), however, as an agent… this can be important. Why? Because well known authors get attention, and people pay attention to what they say.

    An example of this? Celebrity books (or “ooks” as I call them). Usually, they are nothing more than literary vomit… but they sell like crazy. (yeah, I know… go figure)

    As far as hitting “best selling” lists, this can be important in the sense that when you hit one… more folks take note and want to look at your book in order to see what all the fuss is about. This does not always mean a book that does hit a list, will be a “huge success.” As a matter of fact, I know many authors who have hit best selling lists, but still don’t make much money.

    And to add to that…

    Contests & Awards are a total crap shoot. There are some legit and prestigious contests and awards out there, but for most they are subjective and usually judged by folks with less than stellar credentials. (hence, the reason why I say they are a total crap shoot)

    I get tired of seeing claims on covers that are down right false.

    An example that comes to mind is a gal I know who couldn’t sell to NY house, so she self pubbed her book. The book was “chosen” as “book of the week” on some little-known blog where the writer knows the bloggers well (several of the bloggers/writers/reviewers are her critique partners). In addition, please note: one of the “reviewers” was from Australia.

    Because the writer’s book “chosen” as “book of the week” on this blog, and because one of the reviewers was from another continent… the writer claims her book is: “award winning” and “international best seller.”

    It’s like telling people you went to law school, when you dropped out during the first semester. The truth is buried so far under the deceit, it’s unrecognizable.

    Now I ask all you smart, well read, folks out there… WTF?
    Does this make sense to anyone else? Do cover quotes and best-selling claims sway you as a reader? How can we, as readers, weed through all the bullshit to find books we really want to read?

    To add insult to injury… now I’m seeing this same thing happen on the other side of the table. A mid-level publisher (who isn’t based in NY, but is picking up authors like a smooth-talking player picks up chicks) is doing the same thing. They make claims about “best selling” authors, what their “sales” are, and what they can “do” for authors, without thought or concern for the truth or legal implications of their misrepresentations. They also make promises to authors (both verbal and contractual) with no intentions of following through.

    What ever happened to doing business with integrity?

    Anyone else want to weigh in?
    Again, great post Pete!

    • Christine – just for the benefit of the readers here who aren’t familiar with agent speak, is “WTF” publishing nomenclature for something?

  14. I know you aren’t trying to get a wholesome, little gal like me in some trouble, Pete.
    WTF = What The Fu@k?

    I heart you, Pete!


  15. 24 M M Bennetts

    Rant away, mate. This one winds me up as well.

    My bete noir is the ebooks designated ‘best-selling’ by Amazon or whomever–but on closer examination, you find out the book was a freebie from start to finish. Which means it can’t possibly be called best-selling or a best-seller, because nothing was sold. There was no exchange of money for product…

  16. My book The Basement is Number 3 in the UK Kindle list. Guess that counts as a bestseller……..

    • Indeed it does, Stephen. No malarkey in that! But then you’ll simply say “No. 3 on Kindle UK list!”

  17. Great post, Pete! Thank you!

  18. It’s times like this I wish the author of the Bullshit book read Pete’s blog.

  1. 1 Self-publishing & Reviews: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. « J. S. Colley

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