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Sunday, 23 October 2011

Literary Prizes ...

I have often seen books advertised as "Winner of the XXX Prize" or "Nominated for the XXX-Prize" and wondered how they were selected and by whom. Since I began publishing my own work in fiction I have learned that publishers nominate books from their catalogues and, in theory, any publisher can nominate a book. Whether it actually gets accepted is another matter and whether it gets a mention depends on the rules for that prize, the selection committee's preferences and tastes and frequently whether or not the author is "known" and successful - or has the right connections.

I recently watched the pre-Booker Prize Dinner interviews on the BBC. It was eye-opening to say the very least and made me very aware that some of the Traditional Publishers - and perhaps the Book critics as well - have no interest in generating a wider audience. The statement that really got my attention was from one of the Judges, who is a senior member of the Prize committee and if I heard it right, a Commissioning Editor for one of the major publishers. In response to the interviewers comment that the "favourite" for the prize was a thick tome which was "barely readable" he stated "Readability is irrelevant. What matters is its literary value."

I confess I almost choked on my coffee. Surely for something to be a "literary contribution" it must be readable? Or has my editor got that wrong? No wonder I haven't been nominated for these awards ...

Listening to the rest of the interviews it emerged that many of the judges are looking for "social commentary" or "presenting a view of society" or even "a critical re-examining of history and institutions." Evidently the main criteria are that the book must, in some way, promote some view of society or the world which the judges and selectors wish to promote. That is interesting, since my editors have commented on this aspect as well, one remarking that my Harry Heron stories made some interesting comments on aspects of current and possibly future society.

Of one thing I think I may be very certain, I'm unlikely to see any of my efforts listed in the nominations!

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