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Literary Prizes: a win for quality literature? With BookMachine and the TLS

Many thanks to Anna Slevin, our Temps Administrator, for this blog.

This week Atwood Tate went to the BookMachine event where the TLS hosted a panel discussing the nature of literary prizes. It was a real eye-opener as the panel were perfectly frank and honest in their capacity as judges for various prizes. An interesting one to perhaps keep in mind is Encore as they judge second novels and recognise that an author has continued in their chosen career and awards the winner £10k in recognition of their success, regardless of the fate of their first novel.

In contrast, another prize being awarded this year is for books of Jewish interest judged from across all genres be it memoir or fiction, history or comedy. Some of which were proposed and of no interest which made shortlisting somewhat simpler. Apparently the decision making was quite sedate and devoid of drama. (On a side note, you do not want an actor or actress like Joanna Lumley to preside over the judging panel, instead you want a politician like Michael Portillo because they will tell people when to speak and when to make a decision and when to go home which makes the process much smoother – Please note, these were the opinions of two panellists!)

The Cost of Gold

The general feeling was that most literary prizes are less about individual achievement of the author (compared to say, an athlete in the Olympics) than promotion of the product or the publisher. The sheer cost of marketing and the need for a ready print-run should you be short-listed for the Booker Prize can be crippling for smaller publishing houses which can result in less diversity at the submission stage for which the ultimate long- and shortlists can be criticised for. An audience member admitted to having won a prize and following the subsequent uplift, created their own literary prize to be awarded to other authors. At which point the nature of literary prizes seems to become an industry perpetuation and hype the public can glimpse but rarely buy into. It was observed that over the last century, the number of literary prizes on offer in the UK has grown to similar proportions of those in Europe; an odd trend given that historically the greater volume of competitions was considered vulgar by the British public.

The Question of Self-Publishing

An interesting question from the floor asked whether there will be a time when self-published books are judged alongside trade publications and the panellists were in unequivocal agreement that it was only a matter of time. The quality is not the issue. Only the volume. Who would do all of the reading? Who indeed.

 

When did you last read a prize-winning book?

…and did you agree it was worth the award?

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