Steven Zeitchik writes in Publishers Weekly:
- When Copper Canyon marketing director Joseph Bednarik learned that two of his house’s books had been shortlisted for the
National Book Awards this year, he went through the usual gamut of sweet emotions. But he also realized what many prize contenders have come to understand in recent years: For all the benefits, a National Book Award nomination comes at a price.
There are a number of costs associated with being nominated for the country’s most prestigious literary prize. Most notable is a Foundation rule that requires that publishers pay $1000 for each shortlisted book to help the NBF publicize it.(The Foundation also cuts a check for $1000 to the nominated author, though the group says that the fact that the number is identical is just a coincidence.)
For publishers, $1000 is no small amount, coming, as it does, with the expense of flying in authors, buying tables, supplying dozens of books and the submission fee, which, at $100 per title, is more than that of many other literary prizes. (The Pulitzers, by comparison, charge $50 per book title).
With the healthy number of nominations for small presses over the last few years, the issue of NBA fees has become more pressing. More than ever, publishers have to be selective in what they submit and may even have to scramble when a submission is chosen for the shortlist. “We come at it a little bummed out because it’s not something we had built into our budget,” says Bednarik of the $1000 fee, adding that all the money a nomination entails “is not something we can just pull out of the drawer.”
Of course, no house would turn down a nomination. And all publishers say they unequivocally support the NBF and its mission of promoting literacy and literature. But they also question some of the Foundation’s methods – particularly the $1000 that gets passed along to authors. “Why don’t we just avoid the charade and give the money to the author ourselves?” asked one publicity executive at a large house.
For the Foundation’s part, the group says the fees are necessary for an awards program that has no major corporate backer, as the Booker does, or a standing endowment, like the Pulitzers. The group also says these fees are important to help fund its other activities, from writing camps for kids in the Berkshires to readings on Indian reservations.
“[The publisher fees] are really just nominal support for what we do the other 364 days out of the year,” says Neil Baldwin, director of the National Book Foundation. “The awards are important, the awards are the standard-bearer, but there’s a whole other social mission here.” He added, “We’re not just about giving an author $10,000 or $1000. We’re about promoting a half-century’s worth of American literature.” Baldwin pointed to the group’s Web site for a full listing of its activities, among which is a national reading tour by the winning authors that is underwritten by Bloomberg.