On how books become award favourites

It’s the same story every time: a list comes out and someone, somewhere goes: WTF? You’re either on the awards list or you hate it. But in the end, this horse race culture often decides what the public reads. How does it work? I can tell you this: every time I’ve sat on a major jury (except one), everyone’s third choice is what wins. One time I judged the Writers Trust fiction Prize and everyone showed up and said, “Okay, so Toews is the winner… who is on the shortlist?”

I’ve heard rumors of how books become awards favorites, but although excellent books are nominated each year, I’m alway [sic] surprised at what is forgotten. Book publicists at major publishers are largely responsible for how much attention their books get. They often have long lists of books for which they’re responsible. Out of the thousands of books published each year, 10-20 of them might end up becoming the titles we hear about, and the ones that get nominated for major awards. This determines which books sell best, which, in turn, affects how bookstores and other recommend them, and vice versa. Various awards’ nominees and winners often come across as a mix between a mandate and an admonition to readers. Was the book we loved unimpressive, or was it just not pushed hard enough by an overworked publicist?

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