Thursday, April 17, 2014

Why Do People Hate Award Winning Books?

I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Books on the Nightstand, this afternoon and they discussed a fascinating recently published study called The Paradox of Publicity. The study was on a topic that I've heard discussed before: When books win literary awards, the amount of negative reviews for said books increases. The study looked at reviews from Goodreads for 64 books that have won or were shortlisted for literary awards. As expected, the study noted that the number of negative reviews went up. It then came to some conclusions as to why that may be.

Here's why I think negative reviews increase (Turns out my views are very similar to the hosts of Books on the Nightstand even though I didn't intend to copy their opinions):

Book Newbies

Not necessarily people new to books, but people new to literary fiction. When a book wins awards, it garners lots of attention. People pick up the book thinking the "should" read it to feel more educated or to be able to show-off to their friends. Or maybe they were assigned it at school or book club. Basically, prior to the award, a book is read by people who purposely sought it out because it sounded like they'd enjoy it. After the award, the book is often read by people who aren't reading it purely for enjoyment.

The study found a positive correlation for this factor. It based the finding on what kind of books raters had previously read. For example, if a reader had only rated Middle Grade novels and then gives a 2 star rating to Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch, the logical assumption is that The Goldfinch is not the kind of book the reader normally gravitates to.

Negative Nancies

A lot of people love nothing better than showing high-falutin' award judges how wrong they were. This group reads an award-winning book looking for faults. As with anything, if you're looking for something wrong, you'll find it. No book is perfect and people can always find something to criticize. Rating an award winning book negatively allows some readers a feeling of superiority - a sense that they're smarter than those snobby award committees.

Interestingly, the study did not find a correlation for this factor. I don't know if I agree with their methodology. They looked at readers who had a book on their Goodreads TBR list before the book won the award versus those who rated it without ever having the book on their TBR list. They hypothesized that people who had listed the book on their TBR list prior to winning the award would rate the book lower because of a popularity backlash. But they didn't. I understand why they used this technique given the available Goodreads data, but I still think that people reacting negatively to a book's hype is a significant factor.


  1. I agree with you on the second factor, but I think the first one's interesting - I'd never have thought of it. I guess when a book wins an award, you expect it to be fabulous and tend to be overly critical when it doesn't meet your expectations. Plus, I have seen a lot of people gloat about not liking a certain award winning book - or even claim that others like it "because" it won - with that feeling of superiority you mentioned.

  2. I agree with both theories. I would also extend it to books that are not necessarily award winning, but ones that have become unexpectedly popular or best sellers--they too attract readers who may not have necessarily picked them up otherwise and people who want to knock them simply because they are popular.

  3. Hmm, I never felt like I had to read it. I do think I should give the book a chance since it did win something. But not all books that I read that have a award I liked.

  4. Wow great post! When I first started reading, my gut reaction was "Nahh people don't hate award winners" but the more I read the more I realized how true it is and I think you hit the nail right on the head. People step out of their usually genre thinking they "should" like a book and end up not liking because it wasn't their thing to begin with. Also if you can find fault in an award winner, aren't you so smart and superior?
    And definitely Negative Nancies - people love to hate. It makes me think about Lonesome Survivor and how once it was made into a movie how much negative criticism popped up. So many people loved it that others felt the need to knock it down to make themselves feel better "The guys in that book weren't tough, they aren't heroes - such and such is a true hero." Why people feel the need to hate, I will never understand. Thanks for getting me thinking this Thursday morning : )

  5. I've been thinking about this recently as well. I think it's the negative Nancies that do the majority of it because as always, there will be those that hate the book and find bad things in it.
    And thanks for the podcast link: I'm excited to try it out.

  6. I do my best to avoid books that win lots of awards or are super popular. The Shack was the last OMG you have to read it its so amazing book I read, and was almost on the bandwagon until the end. So now, I've an unwritten rule with my reading, I only read what I want to read based on the blurb. I think that's why I could never be part of a book club too. So yeah...I can totally see both of these contributing to award winning book hatred. My third to this is...award winning book reading can possibly end up feeling like a homework assignment.

  7. While I don't hate books that win awards, I don't always seek them out. Each award has its own perks and types...they're something that English Departments love, too (mostly because the books "say" something and English teachers love that). It just depends on the story, I guess.

  8. I don't really read books that win awards - not on purpose of course but it relates to your first reason. They just aren't what I like to read. My MIL sends me those books all the time because "it won an award" or they're a "real" book (as opposed to what I read) lol and I always dislike them. I usually don't understand them.
    I bet the same applies to best sellers too. I tend to stay away from all of that and try to pick what I know I'll enjoy or what comes recommended by people who know me.

  9. I agree with you on the second one. There are some people out there who really do set out to prove people who gave the awards out wrong.

    I think if you go in to a book thinking you won't enjoy it or having read a lot of negative reviews around it, you will end up disliking it. No matter what. It could be pristine but you would pick a hear off something!

    Interesting post and thanks for sharing! :) xxx

    Alex @ The Shelf Diaries

  10. I agree with this. For example, I used to try to read along with Oprah's book club. I read Freedom and the Story of Edgar Sawtell. Oprah love both these books sooo much. So did everyone else. I just wasn't that type of literary person so they books got lower scores from me.


I love comments. I appreciate every one! Thank you in advance.

This blog is now an award free zone. I just don't have time to pass on the awards as they deserve.