A Footnote to the Ardai Issue

Lately, Hard Case Crime editor and publisher Charles Ardai has gone to great pains to claim he’s not really an editor and publisher…and that his book SONGS OF INNOCENCE, which was published under his imprint, isn’t self-published and therefore should be eligible for Edgar consideration.
I guess he forgot about the interview he gave for this month’s issue of Mystery News about the evolution  of Hard Case Crime:

…and [Max Phillips] went off and mocked up some dummy covers to show me what it might look like if we did publish our own books in the old style. I’d worked as an editor of mystery anthologies for years, so it was simple for me to go to my bookshelves and compile a list of some great and undeservedly forgotten novels it would be fun for us to reprint. And Max and I are both writers ourselves, so we agreed we’d each write a book of our own for the line, guaranteeing that we’d have at least two original novels along with all the reprints.

21 thoughts on “A Footnote to the Ardai Issue”

  1. Lee: I just finished LITTLE GIRL LOST and am reading SONGS OF INNOCENCE right now.
    I do not give a rusty goddamn if Charles Ardai has called himself an editor, a publisher, or Marie of Fucking Romania.
    If the rules say that SONGS OF INNOCENCE isn’t eligible for an Edgar, there is something wrong with the rules. This is one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time.

  2. Bill Williams: Lee Goldberg isn’t the one who went crying to Sarah Weinman and then to the New York Post. Charles Ardai has brought this on himself out of pure ego. T.M.

  3. JD Rhodes: So only books that you read that you think are good should be eligible for edgar awards. What about the books that you dont like? The awards would only be dominated by books that got good reviews or that the inside group liked. Big shots like Charles Ardai would have more advantages than he already does and my books would never stand a chance and now they do. T.M.

  4. Steve Lewis: So if an MWA member publishes a book at iUniverse or Airleaf it should be eligible for an edgar award? That makes no sense to me. T.M.

  5. TM: I’m just saying that the whole argument is tedious and frequent. Both sides have a point and the longer they argue, the worse they both look. The MWA can exclude anyone they want with any criteria they want. Its their club. There does seem to be a bit of gloating about excluding books on a technicality, but that is what technicalities are for.
    Maybe Ardai should make a handshake deal with another small publisher to put out each others books and then everyone wins. He is eligibly behind a figleaf and the MWA can enforce another rule. Bill

  6. As I was considering a more lengthy response, I did a little research and found that Edgar Allan Poe self-published Tamerlane and Other Poems when he was 18 years old. So he could not qualify for the award that bears his name.

  7. I’ve got no stake in this fight at all, Bill, but look out your fucking window. It’s 2008 (well, nearly). It’s not 1845. Times change. Edgar Allan Poe didn’t have a broadband connection, either. What a stupid fucking point to bring up.

  8. This issue is interesting because of a contradiction: if the book is GREAT, than why does it matter how it was published? If a book wins that was published, not self-published, BECAUSE it was better than the other published books, but not better than a self-published book, why should it win?
    So, with this contradiction in mind, I’m wondering if Charles Ardai can have it both ways: can he self-publish AND also receive a license or endorsement from Random House so that his book is eligible for Edgar consideration? That is, if Random House says it would publish his book should he so wish, could he go ahead with self-publishing and be eligable for an Edgar? Could Random House allow Mr. Ardai to self-publish under their imprint? Or the imprint of a special subsidiary set up for this purpose? If so, then only good books that are self-published AND have the regular imprint of a bona-fide publisher would be considered for the Edgar. It’s like Oprah recommending a book but not publishing it herself. Does this innovation make sense? It would, at least, broaden the publishing field. More good books would be (self) published but without the publishing company taking the risk that the book wouldn’t earn back its advance.
    Anyway, just a thought.

  9. Steve Lewis: So if an MWA member publishes a book at iUniverse or Airleaf it should be eligible for an edgar award? That makes no sense to me. T.M.
    T.M. Please think. I didn’t suggest that an iUniverse book is likely to win, just that it would be eligible. Let the quality decide who’s the winner, not the format or the publisher. And if it’s published by iUniverse (by an already accepted member of the MWA, as under the New Rule) and if it’s the best mystery of the year, please tell me why it shouldn’t win an Edgar?

  10. In essence: isn’t the book in question somewhat of an anomoly? HardCase is a professional publisher, not some fly-by-night make-a-buck huckster. He happens to be the publisher who also wrote a book and instead of putting it with another house he kept it in house. Is this going to happen often? Does this seem like a hard core self publishing vanity press situation? Is it worth this much conflict?
    PK the Bookeemonster

  11. PK,
    When you apply rules equally to everyone, regardless of a person’s popularity or status, there will be conflict…and it’s always worth it. That’s how you maintain ethical integrity and fairness.
    If we crafted an exception for Charles Ardai, simply because we are fond of him and the books that he publishes, we’d be guilty of blatant favoritism and maintaining a double-standard…and that would be wrong.
    The only remedy to the Ardai situation would be to allow ALL self-published books to be eligible for Edgar consideration — and presently the MWA is not willing to do that.
    It doesn’t matter whether Charles Ardai’s book is good, or has been well reviewed…. positive reviews are not a criteria for Edgar eligibility, nor should they be. If your latest book gets bad reviews, should it be excluded from Edgar eligibility? Any books that meet our objective criteria are eligible, regardless of the authors reviews, popularity, or status in the industry…which, in my view maintains the integrity of the Edgars and the respect that the awards have earned.
    I sent Charles Ardai an email, on behalf of the MWA Edgar Ad-Hoc Committee, informing him of the ineligibility of his book for Edgar consideration. We traded emails for a time, but I let him know that our decision was final. We gladly would have left it at that, but Ardai chose to keep pursuing the matter.
    His distributor subsequently sent letters to all the Board members asking them to grant Ardai an exception on the grounds that his book wasn’t, in their view, self-published and was well-reviewed (The Board re-affirmed the committee’s decision).
    Ardai simultaneously sent his ineligible book, along with a personal note and a collection of positive reviews, directly to the Edgar judges in clear defiance of the MWA’s decision.
    When those actions failed to get him the result he hoped for, he took “his case to the court of public opinion,” as he said in his emails that he would do if the board upheld the decision on the ineligibility of his book.
    I have only responded to the public statements he has made, in blogs and in the media, about our rules and the reasoning behind why his book was determined to be ineligible.
    He has characterized himself repeatedly as the founder, publisher and editor of HCC…but now, for the specific purpose of arguing for the eligibility of his book, he is contradicting himself. He can’t have it both ways, even though he might like to.

  12. Lee, you say that the only solution for the “Mr. Ardai Problem” is to allow ALL self-published books to be eligible for the Edgar. I’m wondering if there is a middle ground between EXCLUDING all of them and INCLUDING all of them.
    For instance. If Mr. Ardai takes his book to Random House, or any other legitimate publisher, and they tell the Edgar Committee that they will publish his book, would that make him elegible? They would not have to actually print more than, say, a hundred copies, if they so desired, or there could be no advance, if they so wished. Would this meet the Edgar rules AND allow Mr. Ardai to continue self-publishing his book?
    Additionally, could the Edgar rules be amended in future to allow this arrangement? What it does, obviously, is to broaden the field by allowing new technology to publish books in new ways. If someone says, “But there’s too many books already?”, then there should be a series of contests building up to the Edgar just as there are in professional sports. Each state, say, could have an awards committee so that no more than 50 books are submitted to the Edgar Committee. Or, if 50 is too many, then a second contest is run to narrow the 50 down to 10. Contests and awards are fun, and debates about merit generate lots of energy, so the more, up to a point, the merrier, I would argue. (In the NFL, for instance, they don’t just hold the Super Bowl. There are 16 contests in the regular season, then play-offs. It’s the buildup to the final contest that provides, I think, so much of the interest.)
    Anyway, if Mr. Ardai’s book really is GREAT, why wouldn’t Random House agree to publish (a limited addition) and why wouldn’t the Edgar Committee want to judge it? We all want to see TALENT rewarded, as it should be, if it produces a great book.

  13. David J. Montgomery wrote: “If you check the current submissions list for the Best Novel Edgar, you’ll see that there are approximately 500 books submitted […] That’s already an outrageous number of books to expect a group of judges to read. If MWA required them to read self-published books on top of that, I wonder if they’d get anybody to volunteer.”
    I doubt that any judge of reasonable intelligence will actually read all 500 submitted novels any more than he or she might read however many novels might be submitted under less stringent rules. A lot of mediocre novels get published and it’s often obvious that they’re mediocre (or, if not “mediocre,” then at least not “award winning”) within the first few pages.
    I’ve twice served on the Private Eye Writers of America’s Shamus Award committee reading for the Best First Novel award–with, admittedly, far fewer than 500 submissions–and it wasn’t difficult to narrow the field of contenders to a handful of nominees.
    The most difficult part of the process is deciding which of the handful of nominated works most deserves the award. What gives one great novel the edge over the other four great novels also nominated? Deciding the answer to that question is the hardest part of the process.

  14. Hi, Lee — just stopping by to wish you a happy new year and to thank you for helping me keep this story alive any time it threatens to die down.
    Incidentally, while it doesn’t address your basic point, I think it’s interesting to note that the book being referred to in the last sentence you quoted from my MYSTERY NEWS interview (“…we agreed we’d each write a book of our own for the line, guaranteeing that we’d have at least two original novels”) is not SONGS OF INNOCENCE but rather LITTLE GIRL LOST — which, of course, was nominated for an Edgar.
    I wrote LITTLE GIRL LOST for Hard Case Crime, though as a technicality it was published earlier the same year by Five Star in a tiny hardcover edition that (as far as I know) never got distributed to bookstores, sold no more than a few hundred copies (mainly to libraries, I believe), and pretty much no one ever saw. I could have arranged for a similar token hardcover edition of SONGS OF INNOCENCE; I didn’t because it never occurred to me that a book by an active member of MWA, published by an MWA-approved publisher, and published under the conventional model (i.e., author pays for nothing, publisher — in this case Dorchester Publishing, which I don’t in any way own or control — pays for everything, author receives advance and royalties, etc.) could possibly be deemed ineligible under a rule that seemed clearly intended to screen out vanity presses and their ilk.
    I expect you’ll have some snarky, self-righteous rejoinder to sling my way, because that sadly seems to be your style when anyone disagrees with you…but the fact remains that what we have here is an honest disagreement between two people of good intentions, each of whom has legitimate arguments to support his point of view, not a case of one saintly Defender of Important Principles and one low, sneaky fellow trying to corrupt the system. I appreciate that it’s fun go on the attack by calling out “contradictions” that are really nothing of the sort (there are roles of a publisher that I do have and roles of a publisher I don’t have; asking whether I am “the publisher” of Hard Case Crime books is like asking which of Gilbert or Sullivan is “the author” of THE MIKADO; the real question I’d imagine you’d want to ask is *which* roles of a publisher should be relevant to the particular rule MWA is deciding how to enforce)…but it would be more intellectually honest to consider the substance of the issues being discussed and acknowledge that both points of view have merit.
    In the end, MWA was entitled to reach the decision it reached; I’m similarly entitled to tell people I think it was a poor decision, and why; and spectators are entitled to form their own opinion. The main thing I didn’t want was for MWA to be able to make what I saw as a poor decision in secrecy, thereby preventing spectators from forming their own opinion. Happily — thanks in part to you — that’s not a danger any longer.

  15. Charles,
    Happy New Year to you, too.
    I won’t re-argue, snarkily or otherwise, our points of disagreement again. But you made one miss-leading comment I can’t let pass unaddressed.
    You wrote: “The main thing I didn’t want was for MWA to be able to make what I saw as a poor decision in secrecy.”
    I’m going to assume you just made a poor choice of words. Because otherwise your statement implies that the MWA doesn’t conduct its business openly and honestly. Nothing could be further from the truth.
    Secrecy was never an issue in this matter…but privacy, perhaps, was. I’m talking about your privacy, not ours.
    It would be wrong for the MWA to make a public announcement every time a book is determined to be ineligible for an Edgar, or a member is denied membership, or a publisher is denied approval (and there are many, many cases).
    I think even you would agree that if the MWA routinely publicized those decisions, authors and publishers would consider it mean-spirited, unprofessional, a breach of their privacy, and potentially damaging to their reputations.
    You, of course, were welcome to tell people that your book was denied Edgar consideration. But it’s NOT fair to imply that the MWA was hiding the fact or operating in secrecy. If anything, the MWA was being respectful of you and your privacy and should be commended for their discretion rather than criticized for it.

  16. You’re right, Lee: I didn’t intend to imply that the MWA doesn’t conduct its business openly and honestly. I think they made a bad decision this time, but I think they made it honestly.
    Rather than saying “in secrecy” perhaps I should have said “outside the light of public scrutiny.” My point was that I wanted this poor decision (which, if unchallenged, could in future years hurt writers less capable of speaking up for themselves than I am) exposed to an audience of interested parties wider than just the MWA board and myself, and I was perfectly willing to sacrifice my own privacy (what little of it I have left after the past decade in the public eye) in the service of that goal.


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