Monday, April 11, 2011

Howard Shrier - Winning Awards

What awards did (and didn’t do) for my career

The 2009 Arthur Ellis Awards didn’t get off to the best start. The first thing I saw in the foyer outside the banquet room was an easel on which the names of all nominees were posted. Mine had been misspelled. Either that or some guy named Howard Schrier had also been nominated.

Remaining calm, I took out a pen, crossed out the offending C, then began doing what anyone in my position would do: get nervous.

Now competing in the hundred-yard stomach jump: Howard Schrier!

Amazingly, by evening’s end, I was holding my first Arthur Ellis Award and grinning like a lobotomized idiot.

The feeling was amazing. I had devoted four years of my life to my debut thriller, Buffalo Jump, had quit a secure, well paying job to finish it. To have it not only published by Random House Canada, but named best first novel by the Crime Writers of Canada had me soaring.

The same was true the following year when High Chicago won the Arthur for Best Novel. Again, just being nominated had been a thrill. Winning—on my son’s birthday, and with my agent and publishers in attendance—put me back up in the ether, there to remain for some time.

So what has capturing these awards done for my writing career?

Some things but not others.

There is no doubt it raised my profile among Canadian crime writers and fans. I began to receive more invitations to read, sign books, take part in panels. Calls came in from Sisters in Crime, Bloody Words, Durham’s Dark Lit Festival, Word on the Street, Scene of the Crime and other organizations and event planners. I was invited to contribute to blogs such as this one. My name appeared in dozens of Canadian newspapers from coast to coast as wire services picked up the Crime Writers’ news release on the winners. E-mails poured in from friends and fans. There were even cash awards from sponsors Book City and Sleuth of Baker Street respectively.

What winning did not seem to do was have a major impact on my book sales.

Oh, there was a flurry at first. When High Chicago won, the rankings of both my books on soared to the top and stayed quite high—for a week or two—before returning to earth, along with my spirits.

Okay, that was just amazon. What about bricks and mortar booksellers? Did readers stream in to scoop up the Arthur winner? The short answer from my publisher was: No. In their opinion, a positive review from a respected critic like Margaret Cannon of the Globe and Mail was more likely to generate sales than any award.

One reason the awards didn’t jack up my sales may have been that both books had already been out for nearly a year when the winners were announced; maybe most people who wanted to buy them already had.

There’s also the question of how well known the Arthur awards are, and how much weight they carry with readers. The organizers work unbelievably hard to put together the awards and publicize the results, and did so very successfully this year, but the name simply does not resonate as deeply as, say, the Gillers.

And as we all know, publishers have fewer resources these days to throw at author promotion. In better times, they might have done more to capitalize on awards like the Arthurs, leverage them into interviews and appearances. Today it’s mainly up to the author to promote their work and achievements. Which I did. I emailed everyone I know about the awards, posted the results on my web site, blogged here and there.

But that initial light flurry aside, sales didn’t jump enough to make a noticeable difference. Which is not to say it won’t happen in the future to deserving winners.

The bottom line for me is I could not be prouder of these awards. Whatever else I accomplish in my career, nothing will equal the thrill of winning them, especially the first, because you’re only eligible for that once. The wonderful wooden statuettes occupy a prominent place on my mantle and always will. To me they embody the respect of my fellow Canadian crime writers and that is incredibly important to me.

Plus my name is spelled right on both.

Howard is a two-time winner of the Arthur Ellis Award for excellence in Canadian crime writing. His debut thriller, Buffalo Jump, which introduces Toronto investigator Jonah Geller, won the Arthur for Best First Novel of 2008. The sequel, High Chicago, was named Best Novel of 2009.

The finalists for the 2011 Arthur Ellis Awards will be announced on April 28, 2011 at the Arthur Ellis Shortlist Events in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Picton, Ottawa and Montreal.

Tickets for the 2011 Arthur Ellis Awards Banquet, June 2, 2011are on sale now.


  1. Howard, as someone who is always being called Barbara Franklin, or sometimes Frankin as if free-associating with Rankin, I sympathize. And now a dark secret - I was the miscreant who put the 'c' in your name that night. I had personally created and printed up all those posters for each nominee, in an attempt to shine a little more limelight on their special night. As you say, a nomination and a win are achievements to be celebrated. So everyone, come out to the short list event nearest you, and drag all your friends and family along. It's a thrill and an honour best shared.

  2. Howard,
    Thanks for posting this. As this year's Arthur Ellis banquet chair, I'm taking notes. So far the list says: check name spelling. It's a bit of thing for me anyway - as you can imagine, with a name like mine. (I bet noone has ever called you Ms. Shrier, or Schrier for that matter. But I get Mr. Collier all the time.)
    Congrats on the success of your books - awards are great, and of course sales probably even better, but as a reader I just want a really great story that takes me away. And your books definitely provide that.
    One way to raise awareness about the awards is to follow along on Twitter!

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Let's try this again...

    News from Howard about what awards can lead to...