Bored of the Booker: Prizes, prizes everywhere
Battle for the Arts at Battle of Ideas
Saturday 20th October 2012
Are literary prizes part of a healthy critical culture, or do they risk becoming an unhappy replacement for it? While plenty are willing to criticise a culture of ‘all must have prizes,’ is it true that being unwilling to make judgements (on a variety of criteria) is just as corrosive to literature? Are some prizes better than others? Who are the real winners, and are there any losers?
writer and salonierre; creator and host, Shoreditch House Literary Salon; author, Maggie and Me
|Miguel Fernandes Ceia
writer, critic and translator; editorial assistant, Writers’ Hub; contributor, Culture Wars
|Professor Russell Celyn Jones
director, Creative Writing Programme, Birkbeck College, University of London
group editor-in-chief, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.
coordinator, UK Battle Satellites; poetry editor, Culture Wars; TV columnist, spiked
Source: Battle of Ideas 2012
One of the main themes of the discussion centred around the question of how the Book industry gets the public to know which are the best new books to read and to generally read more. Alexander Pringle said that Book Festivals were particularly useful as they give the public get greater access to authors and vice-versa.
When it comes to awards, all agreed that the Man Booker prize was the biggest prize out there, with huge benefits for the winner in terms of a massive sales spike and profile raising. Some panelists felt that in fact the main benefit of Booker went not just to the winner, but to all the authors on the short-list.
Smaller awards, such as the Orange Prize and Dylan Thomas prize were considered valuable too, as those in the trade will know of them and their award winners and so it’ll help a winning author, plus short-listed contestants by raising their profile, which will prove beneficial when it comes to releasing and promoting their next book.
A Bookseller in the audience felt there was a need for more book prizes.
A couple of audience members expressed disappointment that Hilary Mantell won the Booker prize this week (18th September 2012) for the second time. Not because it was a bad book, but because it denied a new, un-known Author an opportunity in the spotlight. Damian Barr challenged that by asking, “why not? Can not Usain Bolt have the opportunity to win 2 gold medals? Booker rewards excellence in writing and if someone wins twice or more so be it, they will have done so on merit.”
Alexander said that the Richard and Judy book club (pictured above) had just as powerful effect on sales as the Booker prize. Though it had far less influence after the show moved from ITV to Sky TV. Many felt there were now more writers than books.
Young adult/children’s fiction
The Young adult/child fiction genre was said to be a growing market. According to Alexander this was down to the Harry Potter effect, with everyone trying to replicate the success of this stratospherically succesful ‘cross over’ series of books.
50 Shades of Grey
There was near consensus that the 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon had not really benefited the wider book publishing industry for, as a couple of panelist said, what tends to happen is that people go into Book shops just to buy the book and don’t buy any other book and nor do stores tend to gain a repeat customer from the sale or any wider sales stimulus. That will have to come down to the Bookseller making recommendations to the customer.
As the organiser of the Black Comedy Awards it probably won’t surprise you that I support award ceremonies. With the recent Tiemo Entertainments awards, held in April 2012, I think Tiemo Entertainments helped raise the profile of less well-known comedians such as Kayleigh “Loudmouth” Lewis- Best Young Female and Nathan Caton – Best Young Male and Best Comedian Mainstream circuit.
Furthermore, we also helped cement and validate the reputation of well-known, highly regarded, seasoned Comedians such as Felicity Ethnic, Slim, Gina Yashere and Richard Blackwood, winners of Best Female, Best Male, Best International and Best Comedian Acting, respectively.
I believe the process was profile raising and beneficial for all concerned, winners and nominees too.
I am of the view that Book awards are very useful for the industry and general public. Without them, aside from published book reviews in the press, it’s rare for a non-celebrity author to get TV and radio coverage, so its crucial in that sense.
That said the bulk of the work of getting authors and their work noticed by the public has to be done year round, via working with the media, including social media, literary festivals, book shops, schools, colleges and universities.
I don’t find the awards process to be corrosive to literature at all. It’s a highly subjective subject indeed, with numerous different genres and thus markets to be catered for. There may indeed be a problem with over supply of books – “more books than readers” so that becomes an issue of tremendous marketing, PR and advertising to get one’s book noticed in an extremely crowded market.
It’s also about stimulating reading of and purchasing of new literature to a far wider audience. The situation really shouldn’t exist of more books being published than readers.
The debate closed with each panelist recommending a book from an author the general public may well not be aware of.
Rock Crystal; a boys own story – Edmond Wright;
The light of Amsterdam – David Park
Collection of short stories – Chris Adrians
Tiemo Talk of the Town
20th October 2012