Awards and Sales

Listening to the Coode Street Podcast this morning, I heard Gary mention that, as far as we know, the Hugo is the only award that causes any noticeable effect on book sales. A week ago I would have agreed with him, despite this based entirely on anecdata.

You see, anecdata is all we have. No one does exit polls at bookstores to ask customers why they bought a particular book. We do know, however, that large numbers of people — from Gary & Jonathan to Neil Gaiman to myself — claim to have bought books in their youth specifically because those books were Hugo winners. There’s sufficient mass of anecdata for us to believe that some effect occurred, though we have no idea of the real size.

These days, however, we also have epos data. That’s electronic point of sale, to those of you not in the IT or retail industries. It isn’t accessible to everyone, but publishers do get it, and they are sometimes willing to share.

At Alt.Fiction last weekend I was on a panel about the value of awards. With me on the panel was Tom Hunter, the administrator of the Arthur C. Clarke Award. Tom said that he has seen epos data showing that, these days, winning the Clarke has a significant positive effect on epos sales. In other words, when news of the Clarke result goes public, significant numbers of people go out any buy the winning book.

I said “these days” advisedly, because this effect has only been observable in the past two years. That, I am sure, is down to the sterling work that Tom has done promoting the Clarke Award and getting it covered by major media outlets from SFX to The Guardian.

And that’s the point I want to make here. The Hugo is famous primarily because it was the first (and for several years pretty much the only) award for science fiction and fantasy. These days we have lots of awards. We are almost as fond of them as the romance people, and probably for very similar reasons. In order for an award to be of any use in such a crowded market, it has to be effectively promoted, and it has to be respected. This isn’t easy to do, but Tom has proved it is possible. Hopefully it is a lesson that WSFS will learn, and not continue to try to rein in Hugo marketing least the “wrong sort of fan” be encouraged to vote.

By the way, Gary and Jonathan have lots of interesting things to say. I particularly want to endorse their praise for Lucy Sussex. Here’s my review of her previous collection.

11 thoughts on “Awards and Sales

  1. I missed that panel at Alt Fiction, although I did get a chance to chat to Tom about it.

    I’m curious as to what the “tail effect” of awards are – I have a suspicion (based purely on gut instinct, as I have no data whatsoever) that an award may have more of an impact on an author’s NEXT book. While the award-winning book in question may get an instant hit in terms of sales when the award is announced, I think for a lot of people the author’s name will just rattle around in the brain for long enough that when the next book comes out, they’ll go “oh yeah, they won that award…”, which may be enough to generate extra sales.

    Plus, of course, it doesn’t hurt that the subsequent books will most likely have a “winner of the X award” on the cover – much like “From New York Times Bestselling Author…”, I think there is great value in such cover flashes/banners.

    Apologies if that was all covered in that panel – I’m looking forward to the audio being put online shortly!

    1. That’s the thing it is very hard to prove. As I said above (shamelessly stolen from Tom), people don’t do exit polls at bookstores.

      It’s a particular problem with getting things on covers. When SF&F was largely published by independent companies they all knew about the Hugo and willingly put “Hugo Winner” on the cover. These days it is much less likely to happen, because the big publishers are all generalists and their PR people often have no idea what a Hugo is, or assume that none of their customers would know. The epos data is really all we have. If you can get epos data and show it has an effect, then the publishers will sit up and take notice.

      1. *has image of crazed fan with a box of stickers saying “Hugo Award Winner” being hauled out of Waterstones by security, screaming “I wouldn’t have to if you released the epos data!”*

  2. One would think that Waterstones would be delighted to be able to put Hugo or Clarke Award winner on books in their store. Of course, I may be the Last of the Innocents.

    1. Tom may know different, but despite the impressive media coverage I didn’t see anything in Waterstones about the Clarke. The only promotion that happened was Zoo City going into the 3 for 2 offer, which I suspect Angry Robot had to pay for in one way or another. As far as I know, they are not interested in the Hugos, but then I’ve been barred from doing any official promotion on behalf of the Hugos so I can’t ask them.

  3. As it turned out, we were a couple of weeks away from an everyday third reprint on Zoo City (ie, a middling amount to tide us over for another six months or so) when Lauren’s book won the Clarke. As a result, we could instead prep a new edition with WINNER OF THE CLARKE etc etc across the top, in double-quick time. And the quantity we ended up reprinting was maybe 4 times what we had anticipated, because the trade did get behind it.

    Most of our UK customers re-ordered, including Waterstones (who also raised its level on their core stock algorithms, ensuring good coverage in all stores for the rest of the year). In short, the UK booktrade definitely looked at the book afresh, and helped us get more copies out, because of the Clarke win. In the US there has been less of an effect, but Barnes & Noble and others have put big efforts into repromoting it post-award.

    Of course, we’re a small and new outfit and although Zoo City was Waterstones’ SF book of the Month in October and had a plethora of great reviews, it’s at best a middle-sized success. That’s meant that there are still plenty of core SF readers who hadn’t picked it up but who are now doing so because of the award and its resultant publicity. Whatever, AR are very happy an already successful book has been elevated even further by the award.

    1. Hi Marco, thanks for the useful feedback. I’m delighted to know that the Clarke win helped sell a lot more books.

      I’m not entirely surprised that the Clarke has less visibility in the US than here, but do you have any feel as to how being on the Campbell New Writer ballot is affecting Lauren’s sales? That makes her part of the Hugo publicity effort.

  4. The Clarke Award demonstrates pretty well that it’s not necessary to expand the voting base in order to promote an award effectively, since the number of voters for the Clarke has not increased (that number is six, I believe).

    1. That’s a bit daft, isn’t it? The Clarke is a juried award. It’s prestige rests on the assumption that the results are decided by a specially picked group of experts. The Hugos are a fan-voted award. The more you publicize them, the more people are likely to say “why do these fans get to vote and I don’t?” And if the answer to that appears to be “they have more money than you” or “they live in the right part of the world and you don’t” then the awards will lose prestige.

  5. One of my nearby Waterstones, a tiny one in Kendal, had a display with those of the Clarke Award shortlist they had in stock. Zoo City was highlighted as the winner, the others as runners-up. Unfortunately they substituted Tim Powers’ On Stranger Tides for Declare, and Richard Powers and Patrick Ness obviously had to stay in General Fiction and Young Adult respectively.

  6. Here’s my personal bit of anecdotal evidence: I tend to read through an author’s full catalog when I find someone I like. Whenever one of these binges peters out (because I run out of books or the quality declines too much), I go to the Hugo and Nebula lists first to find someone new. Shifting the topic slightly, my next step from there is always to see which of the winners/nominees are available on Audible.

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