The Council of Literary Magazines and Presses has teamed up with the American Booksellers Association to revive the Firecracker Awards, which were last given in 2002. The overhauled awards will be devoted to “celebrating independent literary publishers and self-published works of high literary merit.”
Founded in 1996 by Koen Book Distribution’s John Davis, the Firecracker Alternative Book Awards, (or FABs,) were designed to honor books on the “unmapped edges of contemporary culture” that “sharpen the cutting edge.” Winners have included George Perec’s Life: A User’s Manual and Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation. Unlike the first iteration of the awards, the new Firecracker Awards will not focus purely on “alternative” or “underground” works, but rather all literary titles of the “highest quality,” including self-published books.
From the outset, the awards had been orchestrated by a group of volunteers, rather than an organization. In 2001, when the task had become unsustainable, the Firecracker group approached Jeffrey Lependorf, executive director of the CLMP, about becoming the steward of the prize. Lependorf had just been hired, and his focus was on getting CLMP on better financial footing, so he passed on having the association oversee the awards. Thirteen years later, not only is the timing better for CLMP, but the climate of the industry is, according to Lependorf, ripe for an award that highlights indie publishing.
“New and lasting literature from independent publishers, and from self-published authors as well, has been moving from the fringes to the middle,” he notes. “We believe the new Firecracker Awards can significantly increase the profile of exceptional, independently produced and self-published books. —wWe want readers to know about the best from the full world of literary book publishing.”
In addition to broadening the focus from strictly unorthodox works, the refurbished Firecracker aAwards will feature a new judging system. Previously, winning books were selected via an online voting system, which, despite its “good intentions,” bore a lack of transparency that raised concerns for Lependorf. The new awards will be judged by a panel of writers, editors, booksellers, and agents. Members of the Firecracker Committee include representatives from, in addition to CLMP and the ABA, Tin House, Workman Publishing, Random House, Byliner, Greenlight Books, and a host of literary agents, in addition to CLMP and the ABA.
The first Firecracker Awards will honor titles published in 2014, with submissions opening to publishers and self-published authors in the fall. The first winners of the new award, like the winners of the Firecracker of old, will be presented at an “unforgettable” party at BEA 2015.