Thursday, March 3, 2011

Melville House Announces Ingenious New Award

It's not hard to put this award into perspective. Independent booksellers of all sizes and interests voting on their favorite independently published books of the last year is exactly the perfect kind of alternative to the big-top infused/conglomerate publishing dominated world of literary awards.

Owners and staff alike will be able to vote side-by-side to determine what book will win the first honor. This is the kind of dialog that has not existed in this country for, well, ever.

That's not hyperbole. Way back in time, when I read Jason Epstein's somewhat Munchausenesque memoir, Book Business: Publishing Past Present and Future one particular aspect struck a younger DA (who was then just beginning to dream of opening a bookstore). Epstein talks about editors at Random House calling local bookstores to see what's selling. Not how their books were doing. Not to market a new book. They called to see what trends they were missing or what writing was making its mark. Perhaps that's a little romantic, but I can tell you honestly that such a call would have been equivalent to actual sustenance when I was sitting behind the desk at Wolfgang Books.

So this is a legitimate opportunity for booksellers not only to deliver substantial feedback but also take back a lot of their say in the critical process.

Here's a selection from the press release from MobyLives:

We’re proud to announce the 2011 Independent Booksellers Choice awards — the first award for indie publishers judged by indie booksellers.

Wait you say… another book award? Why?

Because indie booksellers know books best. They are the people who guide readers past the flavor-of-the-moment titles to the hidden gems. No Amazon algorithm recommendation or Oprah book club pick can compete with your local bookseller when he or she says, “You might not have heard of it, but this book is going to blow your mind.”

There are so many independent books that simply wouldn’t survive without the passion, hard work, and erudition of the independent bookstores. It’s not a glamorous or financially rewarding profession, but when it comes to finding brilliant and surprising literature, no one does it better.

There are enough book awards judged by critics, columnists and random faceless committees. Booksellers are the ultimate readers—it’s time for their voice to be heard.

Important things to note about the award.

Melville House titles are not eligible, as they are the hosts.

The voting is done via email, right here.

While a brainchild of Melville House, and funded by MHP in its inaugural year, the Indie Bookseller's Choice Award is destined to be handed off to, well, booksellers at a later date.

So this is not Melville House's award, but rather one given by Indie booksellers. The good folks in Brooklyn are just footing the bill.

The reality behind the award is this: Melville House is championed by indie booksellers and so they wanted to come up with something that will be uniquely theirs (booksellers). The fact is anything good for indie stores is good for Melville House and so do not think for one second that there isn't reciprocity here. It's just of that warmer, fuzzier kind.

So, all you booksellers out there ought to get voting. Early and often and other cliches.

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