Screenwriter William Goldman is famous for saying “nobody knows anything” about the people running Hollywood and the entertainment industry. Recent book discussion chatter about one of the Edgar winners leads me to think this is true of the publishing industry as well. (I’ve had my suspicions for a while.)

China Lake by Meg Gardiner won the Edgar for best paperback original. I have not read this book and, considering what my listmates at 4 Mystery Addicts and Dorothy L have to say about it, I probably never will. But based on dozens of comments, I have to wonder how it beat out every other paperback published that year.
Here’s just a sampling:

  • “I felt the protagonist, who had the maturity level of a 10-year-old, spent most of her time being too stupid to live, the police were portrayed as complete idiots—from the very beginning. From the structure of the chapters, to some of the worst metaphors I’ve ever read, to terrible dialogue, there were times I felt as though English were the author’s second language.”
  • “The only thing that kept me from throwing China Lake against the wall was I was reading it in e-book form and couldn’t throw the computer that far.”
  • “Our mystery readers’ group read China Lake and the highest rating it received was ‘okay,’ otherwise it was rated ‘not recommended’ or ‘did not finish.’”
  • Hated the Gardiner and DNF’d it. (meaning Did Not Finish)

If you’ve read the book, please share what you think.

The point here is not to criticize this author. We’ve all had negative reactions to our work. What I mean to say is that the publishing industry (and the awards process) isn’t logical. There is no scientific way to measure the quality of a story. Strangely enough, the contradiction inherent in this novel winning an award gives me hope for every talented writer who has yet to be widely recognized. If a book this criticized can win an Edgar, then your book can win over an agent, find a publisher, and be loved by readers and reviewers.

Do not ever give up because one agent said you couldn’t write or five publishers said no thanks. I’ve had publishers tell me they loved my novel, then say no thanks anyway. The lesson here is to try not to make too much sense of it. It will drive you crazy. Just keep writing and improving. There’s hope for everyone.

  1. The Stephen King Effect, maybe?

    Meg Gardiner is an American living in Great Britain who was first published there because American publishers took no interest in her work. Stephen King “discovered” her because they share the same publisher, read her book, and shouted out her name from the pages of Entertainment Weekly. After that, American publishers scrambled to publish her previous half-dozen books.,,20011653,00.html

    Would China Lake (first book first published in 2002) gotten published in the U.S. and still win an Edgar without Stephen King’s endorsement? Maybe, maybe not.

  2. I don’t value awards, but the overall point is correct. I’ve seen many best-selling works that I couldn’t read at all. While books I consider absolutely excellent languish with few readers.

  3. I haven’t read the book, so just a comment on the Edgars. As mystified as the results often leave me, at least there is some pretense to evaluation in the Edgar Award process. The books are judged by a jury of five peers.

    That said, impossible to separate the politics from the process. Strive they ever so diligently to be free of prejudice, people will be subject to outside influences.

  4. Like many, I do not pay much attention to awards or even critics outside of reader reviews where the real meat and potatoes of critiqing will be found. How many times have I read a great book by an establsihed author only to buy the next two to be duds and not finish reading them. Again, I look for reader reviews to help my find a decent read.

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