5.15.2014

Setting A Standard – At What Cost?



Do book awards still set a quality standard, or are they being too driven by sales goals? 
Do movie awards still set a quality standard, or are they being too driven by sales goals?
Do fashion awards still set a quality standard, or are they being too driven by sales goals? 
Do any awards still set a quality standard, or are they being too driven by sales goals?

Have we lost sight of the intentions behind establishing awards that call out the best of something? Why are awards established in the first place? Presumably to enable a system whereby we can somehow recognize a level of excellence and honor something above something else that then can set a higher standard. But,why? Why are we driven to find the best of something--particularly when it comes to an expression of artistry and creativity, such as a book or a movie or a painting or fashion—and why are we so willing to allow someone else, or a group of others, to dictate what’s best to begin with? Can we not determine for ourselves what we feel is best for ourselves as readers, thinkers, viewers?  Of course we can. However, when the success of a business or a corporation or an industry is at stake, then a system of best and not best kicks in with intentions and goals that are not purely quality-driven, but sales-driven. When an industry establishes awards that are meant to set standards of quality of some kind, I think it’s terribly important to study and recognize the intentions behind such awards; to evaluate how intentions behind an award may have shifted over time; and to assess whether an award still serves the purpose it was originally intended to serve.

Some people might argue that without systems in place to call out a best of something, we’re saying not only that everything’s equal but that there’s no need to strive for something better, higher, deeper, richer, more complex, and so on. Perhaps. But I see it in a different way—without calling out a best of something, perhaps we’re allowing ourselves to choose for ourselves what we feel is best—best for ourselves, for our own entertainment, for our own enrichment, for our own purposes. This presumes, however, a system whereby the level of sales of something has absolutely no place in the determination of what’s best. When a corporation or an industry that stands to gain by the designation of “best” on one of their products, that’s when the purity of the methods for how to determine what’s best can become polluted.

I have been of a mind for a long while that  as a society we've become too reliant on awards to set a certain standard--particularly awards for creative artistry. When the intentions behind the awards are purely sales and not quality, awards don't set a standard. Or, I should say, they begin to set a different standard. Is it the wrong standard? Only if the intentions behind the awards are not being honestly expressed. But looking at the vast--and I mean, vast--numbers of new awards that have popped up across many different industries in the last couple of years, there's no question in my mind the establishment of most of these awards is being driven not by any desire to set new standards of excellence or quality, but is being driven primarily, if not solely, by the need for discoverability; ergo, sales.  What better way to tip the scales towards more sales than to slap a gold or silver "AWARD" sticker on something?

In no way do I want to take away from the intentions and purposes of certain awards that are still clearly quality-driven, that are meant to set a standard of excellence for others (inside and outside that particular industry) to hold up as examples of best; that are evaluated and selected by a qualified panel of respected and unbiased experts; and that can't be easily marred by popularity, celebrity, financials, sales, or other factors that have nothing to do with the quality of the content itself. However, this purity of purpose, if you will, is awfully hard to maintain in our current society when every business in every industry is struggling to prove their product is best--and to sell more of it than anyone else. 

This all can certainly lead us to a discussion of artistry and what "success" can, should, and does mean to the artist, as well as a discussion of achievement as a form of stimulation to push us to excel. I will leave these to future posts. 


13 comments:

  1. Anonymous5/15/2014

    Hi Emma, great blog!

    I have always felt ambivalent regarding awards (and I have won a few) They are great to win - especially, when they are awarded by one's peers, offering encouragement. They are INFURIATING not to win! They can distract one from one's work and usurp the autonomy artists should maintain over their work. They are the result of a small consensus, and are seldom life-changing. Simply, they are cream on our industry's banana split. But it would be curmudgeonly to rid ourselves of awards. They ought not to be taken too seriously, is what I think.

    Niki Daly

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    1. Awards as encouragement is the gold standard. Thanks for your comment, Niki!

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  2. For me, once we opened the door to "celebrity books" it became a Pandora's Box of lost standards and values. That and the takeover of publishing by corporations.
    Chris Demarest

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    1. Yes, so in that light it's important to stay true to our artistry and our craft, even if it means making some changes to our expectations, goals, and definitions of "success." Even if it means reinventing ourselves, as you yourself did, to find new ways to practice our art and find success doing so.

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  3. Believing in your work and what you create is its own award. We should remind ourselves of that thought everyday.

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    1. Yes! This is often lost sight of too easily in the melee and fray of awards and sales and the race to be published.

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    2. Anonymous5/16/2014

      Love this.

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  4. I think awards are great and receiving one from the quality and content of your book should be honored and not from book sales. If everything is a popular contest these day, than everyone is losing sight of the real goal of what children's books are all about. The readers. Our fan base. The children who deserve quality books. I reel back in horror when I read and hear that poorly written books and their authors are winning awards based on popularity and book sales. It saddens me.

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Roberta.

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  5. I do not like the current CCA "scandal" but what irks me is the number of poorly written books that garner award status by paying an entry fee to a company that gives practically everyone the award. Now we have numerous "award-winning authors" that in many instances should never have been published. How are kids going to distinguish the good from the bad when the bad is hailed as an award winning book?

    I have seen several "author" sites that call themselves award-winning authors for a debut book that has only been marketed a few months. I cannot bring myself to call any writer of a first book award-winning right off the bat. It infuriates me that the standard in childrens books has downgraded lie this all because anyone can now publish. I cannot image what illustrators must feel when they see all the horrible illustrations on some of these "wonderful" books. It has become a pet peeve. If I don't stop now, this comment will go on forever. :)

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    1. You're calling out a significant problem, and it picks right up on my point that the more "awards" there are, the more diluted the quality of books will get -- and this holds for any product in any industry. Thanks for your comment.

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  6. I have to be very honest here and admit that my debut book did not receive a single award, and I found it disheartening, for I thought I put out a high-quality story. It just didn't find the right groups of people at the right time. However, I do get so much encouragement and praise from those who have read it and loved it, so that makes up for the loss of award recognition. The best reviews I have received have been from parents who tell me my book is their child's favorite. And that's really what it's about--touching the life of just ONE child. If you can do that, you've made an impact, gold sticker on the cover or not.

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    1. Tara, thanks for your honest thoughts and comments here. I will hasten to say that it's very important for authors and illustrators to recognize that not getting any sort of award does not mean the book is not high quality. Awards can be so subjective and so random, really, so I think it's right to try to focus on others sorts of recognition, just as you have done. Cheers on your debut book and your continued success!

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