As a former winner of the National Business Book Award (1997 for Who Killed Confederation Life?) I always keep a close eye on the annual prize. The award has been around since 1986 and the belief always was that it was rigged in that you couldn’t win twice. This year’s winner proved that old shibboleth wrong. The award went to Jacquie McNish and Jim Leech for The Third Rail, a book about pensions, not the sexiest topic ever. McNish previously won in 2004 for Wrong Way: The Fall of Conrad Black. She had a collaborator then, too, in Sinclair Stewart.
It’s never been clear to me that winning the award gave that much of a boost to sales. Some winners would have done well anyway. Naomi Klein’s No Logo and Jeff Rubin’s Why Your World is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller come to mind. I once wrote a lengthy memo about how the winning book could be better promoted and got a nice note back saying, Thanks, but we think what we’re doing is just fine. Which was not much.
This year is different. In addition to the traditional day-after news story, the Globe and Mail, official media sponsor, went crazy today. The back page of the front section of the Globe was filled with blurbs and an excerpt from the book all in colour. In Report on Business there was another splashy half-page ad with a photo of the co-authors, McNish with her hand gently resting on Leech’s arm, trying to top Kim Kardashian and Kanye West for most-liked photo on Instagram.
Could all this attention be caused by the fact that McNish is a writer with the Globe? Would another finalist – Nina Munk’s The Idealist or Donald Savoie’s Single-Minded Purpose – have received such over-the-top attention if they’d won? As they used to say about the Brooklyn Dodgers, “Wait ’til next year.” We’ll see if next year’s winner (presuming it’s not another Globe writer) gets such lavish treatment. Or maybe everything will just revert to the usual humdrum handout that goes nowhere.