The Agatha Awards are different than The Edgars, in that they are voted on by readers and writers–anyone who attends the Malice Domestic convention each year. You must register by a specific time to be able to nominate, but all attendees at the conference vote
The Edgar Awards are decided by a small group of professional writers, the winner is already known, but only by the judges. The nominees are stated in February and the winner announced at the awards banquet of the Mystery Writers of America at the end of April. The Agatha Award, named for famed traditional mystery writer Agatha Christie, is also awarded once a year, the statuette, neither a statue or ett, but a rather large teapot.
Some feel the Agatha Award’s prestige is tarnished because of the voting practice. Often voting becomes a popularity contest, rather than a judge of quality. Many of the same authors are nominated again and again, just as many win multiple times. Still, the attendees at the convention are extremely well read and come to hear their favorite authors speak on panels discussing anything from what poisons are best to use, to how Chick Lit fits into mysteries.
I’ve been to several Malices and find the experience to be wonderfully instructive and great fun. We share a common interest in softer crime–no uneccasary grisliness, with a more traditional bent. The Malice description has been evolving and has grown to include novels not particularly whodunits, nor as soft. As life changes, so does its reflection as interpreted by the writers.
One odd aspect of the conference, in my opinion, is the amount of authors attending vs. the readers. Sometimes it appears as though only writers attend, those published, those who want to be published, and those who *think* they are published because they paid someone to print on demand.
And, many authors at Malice are in extreme promoting mode one hundred per cent of the time, which irritates me greatly, as I’m sure it does others. You can’t turn sideways without bumping into someone giving out bookmarks with all the pertinent info they want you to have. Or some other tricked out promotion, pens that look like syringes, being just one example.
On the other hand, most authors are gracious and generous. After each panel, which usually lasts an hour, they will congregate in a room, each writer at a table, and sign book after book for their fans. This is super for the reader, who has a chance to chat with a favorite, or become acquainted with a newcomer. And fantastic for the writer who keeps a fan base going while attracting new readers.
The panels of discussion are the main draw. Problem is, chances are, two panels you really wanted to attend are slated during the same hour. Therefore, you have to choose one. Which authors are on a panel usually determines the audience size. The topic helps, but if you have three top notch writers on the same panel, and three so-so ones on another–well, you see where that ends up. The people who run the convention are extremely careful to balance the panels with a variety of authors to combat that very problem. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes not.
The authors are also concerned as to which panel they are on. They do *not* want to be on a panel with a self published person, and rightfully so. They have worked years to attain their reputation, and expecting them to converse with people who simply paid someone to print out their words, is counterproductive at best, and insulting at worse. I’m not sure if Malice has seated POD people, but other conventions have.
A usual panel has a moderator, who can be an author themselves, or a well known person within the field. A retired librarian friend of mine is an excellent moderator. She manages to read all of her panelists’ books in preparation for the conference, and throughout the hour asks balanced, interesting and pertinent questions to each panelist.
If lucky, an attendee hits the panel with the funniest authors. I’ve been part of an audience watching witty fabulous writers working perfectly together discussing an hilarious topic.
But then come the Ugh panels, where the moderator isn’t prepared with appropriate topical questions, or, the moderator fails to moderator properly, or, and this is the most prevalent problematic panel, one author tries to take the panel and audience hostage by allowing no other than themselves to speak. This type of situation causes other authors on the panel to blanche in embarrassment, squiggle in their chairs, and nervously try to break into the self absorbed monolog. If the moderator isn’t up to the challenge of a hog author, consider the panel a dud and move on to the next one. Because there is nothing more irritating and time consuming then one author taking center stage, and blithely ignoring that others are there to convey their thoughts as well.
After a couple of years going to the same conference, you start to recognize and know other attendees, and some can become good friends. As do authors.
The Saturday evening of the three day gathering is when the winners are announced and teapots handed out. There is a official toastmaster, a guest of honor–usually someone in the field for a long time, and an Ghost of Honor–yep, you guessed it.
A dinner is held in a large conference room. Jokes are told, accolades are proclaimed, applause applause, and finally the winners are revealed.
I’ve never attended the actual dinner, I am slightly, but only slightly, ashamed to say. It costs extra, my pocket book has never been large enough to include it, and I and others sneak into the room after everyone has eaten to watch the awards given out.
Terrible? We aren’t partaking of the spoils without paying, lol.
There’s a great buffet the first night, I believe–there I grab what I can, but usually it’s picked clean by the time I arrive!
There are a couple of Sunday morning panels that few attend, most people have to travel long distances and need to get started early. The amount of books going through the hotel’s mail room is gargantuan. This relieves the attendee from lugging them onto an airplane or train. Of course, with kindle or nook, this will not be necessary. Umm. No signatures either. No signings, no meeting and greeting authors individually, the post office will be deprived of profits, the convention shortened if the hour between each panel is gone.
Something for the Malice committee to think about and adjust to, before it becomes necessary, as it certainly will soon.
So, take some time to review the Agatha Award nominees, all are wonderful choices, and I have no doubt great reads.