Why Literary Prizes Matter – from Helping Readers Find Their New Favourite Books, to Providing Vital Representation.

With the book world reeling from the announcement that the Costa book awards have ended after fifty years, we got to thinking about why book prizes matter – about why they’re important for writers and readers, and for our broader cultural landscape.

The Costa awards alone have launched and enhanced the careers of scores of fabulous writers, bringing their work to much a bigger readership, elevating books that may have otherwise been criminally overlooked. 

Take recent winner The Mermaid of Black Conch, for example, one of our Star Books. Despite having enjoyed considerable acclaim for her previous work, this exceptional novel saw author Monique Roffey set-up a crowd-funder to promote the book after securing a publishing deal with Peepal Tree Press (discover how great they are in our Industry Insights feature).

To Roffey’s surprise, The Mermaid of Black Conch won the Costa Book of the Year and the Costa Novel Award 2020, and is now enjoying global critical acclaim, support from booksellers, and thriving sales - the role the Costa awards played in making this deserved success an actuality cannot be underestimated. Indeed, on winning the prize, Roffey declared: “I’m flabbergasted…There are so many things about it that made me think, ‘Oh, this book will live its life in the margins. It will live a quiet life.

Thinking about the demise of the Costa also reminded us why we started our own Very Short Story Award - to support and encourage new writers, and share their fabulous stories with our community - and we’re proud to support an award that’s attracting increasing numbers of entrants each year.

If you’re sitting on the fence as to why literary awards matter, read on to find out why they really, really do.

Awards cut through the noise to provide a tool for readers

At LoveReading, we’re in the thrilling business of helping readers discover books they’ll love across all genres, for all ages. With thousands of books published each month, it sure ain’t easy to navigate the noise around big books and established writers to find what you might really love, to discover new writers, and to broaden your literary landscape. So, LoveReading exists to help readers do exactly that. 

And that’s exactly what book prizes do, too. As clearly shown by The Mermaid of Black Conch, awards bring books to the fore of public consciousness and bookshops (those prize-winner tables at the front of stores have a mighty impact).

Awards make underrepresented writers and subjects more visible

Related to the first point, book awards open to writers from specific backgrounds, or awards covering specific genres and topics, play a vital role in putting underrepresented writers centre stage.

Whether we’re talking about awards that focus on specific genres that might be subject to snobbery from certain quarters of the literary world (for example, genre fiction like romance, crime and fantasy), or awards specifically open to female writers, people of colour and LGBTQ+ writers, such accolades spread awareness of a broader range of experiences, and support a greater diversity of writers, ultimately making for a more informed cultural landscape. Sounds like a win-win-win scenario.

Awards acknowledge and reward excellence

We all like to have a job well done acknowledged, and the same holds true for writers. A novel or work of non-fiction might take years (or even decades) to see the light of day.

Every book published represents a tremendous investment of time and effort from their creators, and so it follows that excellence in one’s field, and contributions to culture and knowledge, should be rewarded with recognition, ideally accompanied by a handsome cheque, given that most writers are far from living the high life. 

What’s more, if movie-makers get to enjoy all those glittering awards ceremonies, why shouldn’t creators of written-word wonders have their moment in the spotlight too?

Award winners (and losers) spark debate 

We’ve all been there – mad that our chosen winner didn’t make the cut, while a book we weren’t that fussed on claimed the top prize. And the debates sparked by such scenarios are a good thing. After all, one of the most wonderful things about books, one of their raison d'êtres, is to make us think, to make us react, to make us feel something.

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