November 29, 2010


A friend who lives in Canada recommended a novel that recently won a book award there. It won’t be available in the United States until January but I managed to look up a few reviews. Most readers gave it 3 stars and one person commented it was “…hardly worthy of note, let alone a distinction of receiving the highest literary award of Canada.”

I hope this doesn’t sound like sour grapes, but I rarely enter awards contests. The main reason is the fees are often hefty. Only one person can win, so submitting a work is a bit like buying a lottery ticket. The odds of losing are high. What’s more, I don’t like the idea of paying people – judges — to read my books. I prefer the money to flow in the other direction.

Winning an award provides temporary recognition among a small group of the literati; but unless it’s a Noble or Pulitzer Prize, I wonder who besides the author long remembers. Frankly, who remembers who won the Pulitzer for literature in 1934? 

I think what matters most is how the writer feels about what he’s done… if he’s honest…if he’s self critical. Having an audience is a close second when it comes to satisfaction.  A sizable audience validates the author’s faith in himself. 

History is full of examples of artists who didn’t win a prize, and who, like Proust, self-published their first work. Time and word-of-mouth served as their champions.   

I hope time and word of mouth will do the same for a friend who has just released his first book through Amazon. He couldn’t deal with the labyrinth of finding a publisher and he had a fierce belief in what he’d done. He was right. I finished the book over the weekend. He told a rollicking tale that took me to another time: the San Francisco fire; a bank heist and a trail of shoot outs and scoundrels that lead all the way to Portland, Oregon. Anyone interested in a good chase and west coast history might look for John Patrick Legry’s, The Copper-Handles Affair” on Kindle or Amazon.  

Will it win a Nobel Prize? Probably not. But I didn’t waste my money, either.