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True confessions of an award-winning author...

September 1, 2007 |  6:00 am

Are there any writers in the world whose promotional material doesn't describe them as an "award-winning" author? Show of hands? Anybody?

True confession time: I am an "award-winning" author. This is indisputable. I have won many awards, even some for writing. (Go ahead, challenge me. I'll personally e-mail you color photographs of my third-place Pinewood Derby trophy and my fifth-grade science award from Buhl Planetarium in Pittsburgh, PA.) I am also, indisputably, an author. Thus: "award-winning author."

Just don't ask me if any of my three crime novels ("Straw Men," "Shadow Image," "Time Release") or two nonfiction books ("Oops," "Poplorica") have won literary awards. They haven't. They have been finalists for some very nice ones, including the Anthony and the Edgar awards, two top crime-fiction honors, but that's the nicest possible way of saying my novels didn't actually win these awards.

The latest fascinating twist to all this semantic self-congratulation is the lusty promotion of books that have won "in-house" awards, which publishers give to their own books. I won't mention names, because so many publishers do it now.

In 1997, for example, one Midwestern house established an in-house awards program for unpublished fiction. First prize is "publication of the work and royalties on sales." In other words, the manuscript becomes "award-winning" before it’s even a book, and that glorious honor eventually becomes part of the marketing plan for the first-place winner. (It's worth noting that nearly half of the fiction and children's titles published by that house since 1997 have been "award-winning" books by the time they hit bookstores.) Second-place authors get $200, and third-place authors get $100.

And the fee for submitting a book for that in-house awards program?

$50.

Martin J. Smith

Smith is a senior editor for the L.A. Times' West magazine.

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