This is the very timely question posed by Listener Arts & Books Editor Guy Somerset in a page long thoughtful piece in the NZ Listener dated August 2-8 which will be on sale next week.
(One of the advantages of being a subscriber is to receive your copy before the non-subscribing punters.)
Somerset makes a number of valid points about the need for a fresh look to be taken at the whole structure of the awards and draws a comparison between the reaction of the organizers to criticism of judging decisions with that of criticism leveled at leading UK book awards.
He makes a number of specific suggestions including splitting up the fiction awards, the poetry awards and the non-fiction awards.
And his suggestion which I warmly endorse - "making the judging process less like a Creative New Zealand grant application and more intuitive, more like the way people actually read.”
Let us hope that Booksellers New Zealand will undertake a review of the Montana New Zealand Book Awards, that they will take on board suggestions by Somerset and others, and pay heed to the widespread criticism they came in for at the time of the shortlist announcement.
And here is another point for consideration sent to Bookman Beattie by bookseller and former publisher Tom Beran:
My concern regarding the Montana awards has been bugging me for years i.e. the Peoples Choice award which carries a monetary prize of $1000. I have never been able to understand the purpose of this award as the winning author in any year may have encouraged friends, family etc to vote for him/her and due to a small response for such awards (unlike the Children’s one) we may get a strange result.
All in all there is plenty for the organizers to think about if the Montana New Zealand Book Awards are to continue “celebrating excellence in New Zealand books.”