Sunday, September 03, 2006

Quill Award Field Report

I mentioned on August 22 that Mom's Cancer has been nominated for a Quill Book Award in the Best Graphic Novel category. Voting is open to the public and winners will be announced October 10. The nomination is a surprising honor I'm very happy and grateful to receive.

That happiness and gratitude are only slightly tempered by what I see in the field. In the past few days I've been in two Borders stores and one Barnes & Noble (I like bookstores and, yes, I also patronize and treasure small independents) and seen no advertising, no ballots, no tables filled with Quill-nominated books, and no awareness among the staff at all. Keeping in mind that Barnes & Noble and Borders are two of the Quill Awards' corporate partners and are supposed to be promoting the thing, I was nonplussed. In one Borders I did find stickers on some Quill-nominated books (though not mine), so it seems like headquarters is at least making an effort. But judging from the blank stares I encountered everywhere, that effort hasn't percolated down to the workers who interact with the public. Two of the stores had sold out of Mom's Cancer (hoorah for me!) and, as far as the kids manning the computers knew, had no immediate plans to re-stock it (boo!), Quill Award or no.

The Quill Awards only started last year. I like the concept. Books are nominated by booksellers and other publishing professionals (which theoretically weeds out the riff-raff) and the winner is chosen by popular vote (which theoretically weeds out the critical darlings that no real people read). But looking over press reports of last year's awards, one repeated criticism of the Quills was that winning had very little impact on sales. There was no bounce.

That could be a consequence of the awards' newness. It takes time to build awareness and reputation. If my little microcosm of the literary world is any indication, however, it could also be because the folks who should be promoting the Quill Awards, and maybe even have a few copies of nominated books on hand in case somebody happens to ask for one, have never heard of them.


Mike said...

Lack of communication down the line can be devastating in marketing. A classic case was Futura, a cleaner-shiner for no-wax floors that came out in the early 70s when those floors were new. The ads hit TV, the customers went to the store, the product wasn't on the shelf. By the time it was, the impact of the ads had faded.

Of course, back in the 70s, books weren't marketed like floor cleaners and bookstores didn't feel much like chain grocery stores ...

Brian Fies said...

I don't know anything about Futura, but you sure are right about books. Marketing is such an overriding consideration now.... What's interesting to me is the advent of quality print-on-demand (CafePress, Lulu, etc.) that I think offers a genuine opportunity for non-commercial writers or topics to find an audience. Distribution is a problem. But I think one or two genuine sleeper hits from the self-publishing world could crack open the publishing business in an interesting and probably positive way.