At last, a major literary award is opening its doors to indie writers. But does the news fill you with horror or excitement?
All I have really wanted as a self-publisher is to have my work taken seriously for its literary merit (or otherwise). Now, thanks to the new kid on the awards block, the Folio prize, that could be about to happen.
Over the past few years I’ve been banging the drum for self-publishingand self-published authors, but the stigma attached to self-publishing in the eyes of the public and the media hasn’t disappeared.
We often hear about the commercial success of genre-writing self-publishers such as Hugh Howey or Amanda Hocking, but that doesn’t remove the frustration felt by those of us who would like to see our works talked about alongside Will Self or Hilary Mantel, Jeanette Winterson orSharon Olds.
The best way for self-publishers to prove that we deserve our place in such discussions would be for our works to be considered alongside those writers with whom we want our work to be compared. But in order to overcome the chicken-and-egg situation in which media coverage depends on proven quality and proven quality depends on critical comparison, the only real way forward is for major books prizes to open their doors to self-publishers.
To see what a difference this would make, just look at how the media has, or hasn’t, covered Kate Tempest in the past year. Last summer she self-published her extraordinary debut Everything Speaks in Its Own Way, a collection of her performance poetry produced like a limited edition album, with CD and DVD beautifully bound into the endpapers. It was pretty much invisible in the mainstream media, save for a couple of reviews here in the Guardian after I nominated it in a below-the-line comment for the first book award. A few weeks ago she won the Ted Hughes award for her poem-play Brand New Ancients. Suddenly everyone wants to know her. I hope they will discover her collection as a result – and discover how good it is. But it will be no better when they do than it was when they ignored it before.
Awards are a direct route to being taken seriously. But major book prizes, from the Women’s prize through the Costa to the Booker and now the new Goldsmiths prize, haven’t allowed self-publishers the chance even to be considered. Which is one reason I jumped at the opportunity to front the Alliance of Independent Authors‘ forthcoming Open up to Indies campaign, designed to make the case for inclusivity among prize organisers, festival coordinators, bookstores and the media.
Thank goodness, then, for the new Folio prize, originally announced in a whirl of controversy as the Literature prize, Booker’s more bookish younger cousin. While the new award’s eligibility criteria have always, in their lack of the standard “no self-publishing” clause, implied an openness, the prize’s administrator gave me positive confirmation in a recent email that their doors were indeed open. I mentioned this in apiece for the Alliance of Independent Authors earlier this week, and the fact that it has been taken up by the Bookseller and welcomed across Twitter shows that people realise just how important this is.
It is important because it finally gives self-publishers the chance to prove that they do not deserve the lingering stigma regarding their work – the belief that it has little or no artistic merit. Now, it is up to those of us who have been asking for just this kind of level playing field to show that we can produce books worthy of a place on the shortlist. And it’s up to us to do so within the prize’s first couple of years. If we can, then that may well prise the doors of other awards open. If we can’t, then we have to be prepared for the I-told-you-sos that come our way. It would be lovely to think that the Folio Prize Academy members will be reading and recommending self-published works, and hopefully some will be among the 60 longlisted titles they decide upon in September. But whether they do or not, at that stage self-publishers will have the chance to put their case for inclusion in the subsequent 20 titles called in for consideration based upon a supporting statement of 300 words. At this stage, small presses, large presses and self-publishers alike have the chance to get their works measured against each other, on a level playing field, at last.
I for one am starting to polish my proposal now. I very much hope that others will join me and that between us we can do justice to the opportunity we have been given. For years I have been saying “All I ask for is a chance” and for me, finally, this is the chance I wanted. So, do people feel that I am being typically Pollyanna-ish and that self-publishers need far more of a foot in the door to show their real worth? Or does the thought of a prize that was sold on the basis of its artistic seriousness opening its doors to self-publishers make you recoil in horror? And is anyone else looking forward to the opportunity as much as I am?
- Folio Society named as sponsor of fiction prize to rival Booker (guardian.co.uk)
- New literary award The Folio Prize launches as ‘Booker without the bow ties’ (independent.co.uk)
- Why we need the Folio prize for fiction (guardian.co.uk)
- FOLIO: Announces Annual Eddie and Ozzie Awards Call for Entries; Entry Deadline June 7 (prweb.com)
- New Folio Prize to reward English-language fiction (utsandiego.com)