Oct 28, 2012

Many Literary Awards Exclude Indie Authors

In the past, I often bought books that won or were shortlisted for one of the major English language literary prizes. Not any more. When I became an indie author, I began to boycott such books because many prize-granting organizations specifically exclude self-published authors. How can you claim to award the best if you exclude vast numbers of authors?

Here are three examples:
  • The annual winner of the Man-Booker prize receives £50,000. Their web site says it is open to “any full-length novel written by a citizen of the Commonwealth, the Republic of Ireland or Zimbabwe,” but they exclude self-published books.
  • The $70,000 Giller Prize is given to a “full length novel or short story collection, written by a Canadian citizen or permanent resident of Canada.” Nominees must be submitted by a publisher and the web site states “No self-published books shall be eligible.”
  • The Governor-General’s Literary Award, presented annually by the Canada Council, presents $25,000 prizes in several categories for works “written, translated or illustrated by Canadian citizens or permanent residents of Canada.” Again, the books must be submitted by a traditional publisher: self-publishers are prohibited.
In contrast, the venerable Pulitzer Prize does not exclude indie authors. The $10,000 award is open to authors who are US citizens, and to non-US citizens who write about American history.

Anyone looking for an inclusive, author-friendly process could emulate the Hugo Awards for science fiction and fantasy. Books are nominated by fans and winners voted on by all members of the World Science Fiction Society, not an elite committee. There are no citizenship restrictions on authors.

I think I'll buy some sci-fi soon.

Canadian Angle

Being Canadian, I have a beef with the publishing establishment behind this country’s big awards.

The Giller Prize and the Governor-General’s Literary Award seem designed to promote established Canadian publishers, not authors. How ironic, when most of Canada’s publishers are foreign owned. And this exclusivity seems to do little good. In October, Vancouver-based Douglas & McIntyre, publisher of the 2010 Giller Prize-winning novel, The Sentimentalists, filed for bankruptcy.

While I admit there is a legion of self-published authors of dubious talent, many are as good as those chosen by publishers. There is a simple way to open the door to indies. Self-published authors work closely with independent bookstores to get their books to the public. The bookstores are capable of vetting the work of indie writers and could be trusted to nominate worthy contenders.

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