Follow-up To Prime Minister's Literary Awards

In reply to a piece I wrote last week regarding the new Prime Minister's new Literary Awards, Maggy took me to task, in a comment, for implying that self-published works weren't worthy of being considered. I originally intended to answer that comment with another, but as I got into the topic my reply got bigger and bigger, and I thought it had a few things to say that needed airing at a higher level. So, here is that comment expanded into the piece below.

To Maggy: I think we might have a different understanding of the term "self-published". When I wrote the piece on the PM's new literary prize I was thinking of such vanity press outfits as iUniverse, Outskirts and Xlibris. Not small press outfits, which are a different kettle of fish entirely. For more discussion of the problems of vanity presses see the self-publishing section of Lee Goldberg's weblog "A Writer's Life".

But even with small presses you have problems. There has been a big fuss lately in the US over Songs of Innocence by Richard Aleas. The basic problem is that "Richard Aleas" is a pen-name for Charles Ardai, who happens to be the co-founder and managing editor of Hard Case Crime (a wonderful publishing house by the way), which published Aleas's latest book. And because of that connection the Mystery Writers of America (MWA) have deemed Aleas's novel a self-published book, and therefore ineligible for the Edgar Award. A bit rough you might think given that "Publishers Weekly chose Songs of Innocence as one of the 100 best novels of the year" [Michael A. Burnstein]. But those are the rules of the MWA. And if you are going to ban self-published works you have to ban them all, no matter how professional they might look and feel. Hopefully the same probem won't arise here, but it might.

Returning to the question of self-publishing, as Jason Pinter puts it:

Getting self-published today is easier than ever. It does not take any editorial or authorial skill to be self-published, only a pile of paper and enough money to cover the costs. And for many, the cost is worth seeing your manuscript bound between two covers. I can be relatively certain that if all self-published books were permitted, the time consumed would go from "minor inconvenience" to "near insurmountable" almost overnight. Not to mention, in my opinion, it would encourage even more self-publishing, as aspiring authors would soon realize that for $199 they could be judged on the same field as Lawrence Block. And if this leads to authors paying a few [bucks] to get their books bound for award consideration instead of honing their craft, I think it'd be a real shame and could actually do the opposite of what's intended.
As I was writing this I had the thought that the guidelines for the PM's award also stated that 750 copies of each book entered must have been sold. That would have made it nigh on impossible for any self-published book to fit the entry criteria: in 2004 in the USA, iUniverse published 18,108 titles, and of those only 83 sold more than 500 copies. But the guidelines here don't refer to copies sold but copies "published"; and therein lies the difference. I reckon I could "publish" 750 copies of a set of unedited, unread manuscript pages for under $500, which includes registering a business name for the "publishing house". Without this award's restriction on self-published material I would then fit all the criteria. The fact that some 40 to 50 reams of paper would be sitting in a big pile in my house waiting to be pulped after the award was announced is beside the point. This isn't "publishing" by any stretch of the imagination. It's not a book in the true sense, and it shouldn't be eligible for an award such as this. I think the guidelines for these awards, concerning self-publishing, are quite reasonable.

[Update: I inadvertently spelt Maggy's name incorrectly. I've fixed that now. My apologies.]

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on March 18, 2008 9:36 AM.

Australian Bookcovers #106 - The Western Track by Arthur Bayldon was the previous entry in this blog.

2008 Kiriyama Prize Shortlists is the next entry in this blog.

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