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HaroldWrites: Should Literary Awards Be Subjected to Public Votes?

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dreamstime_m_26922040If you are an active citizen of the Nigerian literati space, I believe you would have heard of the Flash Fiction Prize/Award currently run by one of Nigeria’s major telecommunication giants. The Prize/Award is open to all writers of unpublished short stories of not more than 300 words and it is open to writers of African citizenship, irrespective of where they reside in the world. The Prize is in its 3rd year now. This Flash Fiction Prize/Award is commendable in what it proposes to achieve, but at the same time, its methodology for picking a winner is one of the weirdest in the class of literary awards around.

When I first heard of the Award in 2014, I thought it was something I would enjoy partaking in. I mean, which budding writer wouldn’t want to have a literary award to his name? I could not enter for the 2014 edition, but I did enter for that of 2015. Unfortunately, I did not get a feedback that my entry was approved. Interestingly, a year after the award was completed and Prizes given, I got an email saying my “entry has been approved.” There were obviously technological hitches with their system, thus resulting in belated attendance to my entry. This was the first warning sign about this Award.

Now in 2016, I got another opportunity to enter for the award. I submitted my entry without any issues. Remember what I said about how this Prize/Award set-up is one of the weirdest around? We all know how some of the world’s most prestigious literary awards are being determined by renowned and accomplished literary experts as Judges. This isn’t exactly the case with this Prize/Award. To win this Prize, you must first go through the hurdle of getting the general public to vote your story on their dedicated site. The most popularly voted stories then get picked up by their Judges who, in turn, pick the winner. So, if you are not able to get as many votes for your entry, then, there is no hope of you winning the Award – no matter how award-worthy your story might be.

In the light of the aforementioned hurdle, you can imagine the type of habits participants engage in, just in a bid to get the public to vote their stories. Apart from literally begging friends and family members to go vote their story, some participants have developed other ingenious ways to get votes. Now, I don’t particularly enjoy going on social media to beg for votes. I interpret this as bugging others just for your selfish gain. And nobody likes to be bugged. Again, I think subjecting participants to go solicit votes in such manner demeans the award in a certain type of way. Literary awards should be prestigious and solemn events, and not popularity contests.

So rather than bug people on social media, I decided to try one ingenious way to test the system. So, I set up a two-day Facebook Ad on my Page (this is asides putting a link on my Twitter, Instagram and BBM accounts). To my amazement, the Ad pulled some interesting algorithms: by the end of the second day, the ad had reached 1,418 people with 138 of those people “liking” the ad.

With the foregoing stats, you would expect that, at least no fewer than 100 of those people would go over to the dedicated site to vote my entry. Well, I was in for a treat when I checked my story. It had just six votes. Six solid votes.

The point must be reiterated that, I ran the Facebook Ad to test the system. The test was to determine if people would vote my story because they liked it and thought it was deserving of the award (as it ordinarily ought to be), or they would vote it just because I asked them to. From the stats result I got, it might be difficult to reach a verdict for this singular reason: I got a lot of feedbacks from people who tried accessing the site, but couldn’t because the site kept giving an “error” pop-up. The site developers created the site in such a way that, one can only access it from a laptop or a few special mobile browsers like Firefox.

The foregoing then begs the question: to what end does opening literary awards for public votes serve? In defence of the organizers of this award, I think their reason for adopting this approach is to help downsize the number of stories that will be reviewed and eventually picked by the Judges. On face value, this sounds like a valid reason, but when one considers the fact that, the best entry might not make it due to lack of sufficient public votes, can one still say determining literary awards by public votes still serves any utilitarian value?

In your opinion, should literary awards be subjected to public votes?

Photo Credit: Michael Gray | Dreamstime.com

HaroldWrites is an extraterrestrial who uses words like floccinaucinihilipilificate and antidisestablishmentarianism to keep his readers under his spell, yearning for more. Visit his blog at http://www.haroldwrites.com and stalk him on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram @haroldwrites

10 Comments

  1. Darius

    November 16, 2016 at 9:12 pm

    Should literary awards be subjected to public votes? My answer is a resounding votes.

    • Darius

      November 16, 2016 at 10:00 pm

      … a resounding no.

  2. Illahb

    November 16, 2016 at 10:42 pm

    I’m glad this is been brought forward. When Etisalat released theirsfor entry sometime in the past months I was excited and immediately Disqualified myself when I got to the part of votes- popularity over creativity? The prize aren’t for the best man/woman obviously

  3. Amakashie

    November 17, 2016 at 1:04 am

    @Harold since the award is not sponsored by a literary society/body,then I think it is okay for the public to vote as initial screening, I can imagine the “crazy” number of applications they have to go through, for the communications company it is more about publicity, expanding their brand than really promoting writing and literature.

  4. oluwadunsin

    November 17, 2016 at 1:07 am

    For someone like me who has very very few number of friends, competitions like these are never in my favour. When I saw the flash fiction prize/awards, I didn’t bother to participate. Literary awards should never be subjected to public votes, how many of the public read the stories? The whole essence of the award will be lost when you win not because your work is extremely good, but because you have succeeded in gathering enough people to vote for you.

  5. Truthie

    November 17, 2016 at 1:35 am

    Lol, Etisalat. They turned a literary award to a popularity contest. That’s wrong, but then it’s not a literary agency, it’s a communication company. It’s all about brand essence and marketing to them. 6votes only? Hahahaha., people are too hungry to vote. I think a Nig writer once wrote about this, Pearl Odibu if I’m right. Nigeria could do with more literary awards, but who is willing to sponsor? Winning anything is always hard, ask Elnathan John. You’ll be disappointed if you wait for writing awards for income. Why not try screen/nollywood writing? At least youll surely earn something from those feature films. Goodluck.

  6. marapritty

    November 17, 2016 at 7:55 am

    While we are still on it, kindly vote for me by clicking on the link below:

    prize.etisalat.com.ng/flash-fiction/voteall.php?id=2208

  7. Akintuyi Abike

    November 17, 2016 at 11:54 am

    I can resonate with this article. My entry, EXODUS, was equally shortlisted for the prize, but I gave up soliciting for votes when it dawned on me that I would have to spend the entire hours of each day lobbying friends and foes to get the desired number of votes needed for the prize. I believed it drained me of the euphoria I felt when I saw that my story was shortlisted and reduced me to a literary beggar hungry for fame. That said, I still believe it is a result of the fame thirsty world we live in and the length people would go to achieve fame and popularity. Etisalat, thanks though for the opportunity to be a brand ambassador for the 421 friends I have on Facebook. Some do call me to ask how far I have gone in getting the votes and when I consider the 10 votes I have, I can only wish I had the Trump wand to upset whoever is recording the highest number of votes.

  8. nelson

    November 17, 2016 at 1:30 pm

    @harold, you hit the nail right on the head.
    Can you believe that they didn’t open the vote polls at the stipulated time?

    And on the second day, some people have got thirty something votes.

    One thing is certain, the prize is demeaning, they probably shouldn’t have approved so many stories if they wanted to downsize the number of entries.

  9. Khemmie

    November 17, 2016 at 4:27 pm

    I love your write up. I also do not see why literary works have to be voted for. I took the pain to read some of the shortlisted stories and I almost puked. Some had no reason to be in the list at all. Like someone rightly said, it’s a publicity thing for Etisalat and not really to reward creativity.

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