USUALLY, I try to keep a low profile, hoping that my articles and works of fiction will speak on my behalf without me feeling compelled to say anything else publicly. But something has happened that has forced me out of my shell. And I’m really pissed off about it.
I refer to the inaugural Prime Minister’s Literary Awards, a competition that is worth $ 100,000 to the winners of the fiction and nonfiction categories. As an author, I was excited at the prospect of entering my second novel, The Holy Well .
It had taken a great deal of research and effort to write, and the feedback I’d so far received, limited as it was, had all been positive.
However, when I looked at the guidelines for entry, I was astounded to see the stipulation: ‘‘ Self- published works are not eligible. This includes any arrangement whereby an author pays a third party to publish a work.’’ My astonishment turned to anger. You see, I’m a self- publisher. I set up a publishing business in 1999 for the freelance writing and editing I’d been doing for some time ( and still do), and I used it as the imprint for two of my novels.
Now, I know that these days almost anyone can call themselves an author and have one of a host of companies transform their manuscript into a good- looking final product. These companies will advise, edit, design, print and market the book, all for a substantial fee.
This fee, however, has now been reduced in many cases because of the easy availability of print- on- demand technology, so an increasing number of writers are using this route to get their work out there.
And good luck to them. But it would be a mistake to include me — and a number of other self- publishers — with this lot. I don’t want to go on about my background and experience in making a living from my work, but for years publishers, editors and organisations have been paying me for what I do.
And when it comes to self- publishing, I do almost everything myself. The writing and editing is just the beginning: the design, the prepress work, the cover art, the printing, the marketing, the website construction and maintenance, the distribution and deliveries are all either done by me or heavily supervised by me.
There’s no package deal involved. I do more than any one person could possibly do in a mainstream publishing house. And I do it for a lot of different reasons, the hope of making more money being one.
But is my work any good? Of course, the only way anyone can answer that is for them first to
ON INDEPENDENT PITFALLS
read some of it. This logic, however, seems to be lost on a number of literary commentators who, although they may be astute reviewers, know very little about what goes on in mainstream publishing houses, and they dismiss out of hand anything that is self- published, with the naive belief that for the work to have been selfpublished it must first have been rejected by mainstream publishers and is therefore inferior. Codswallop. Three lots of codswallop, in fact.
First, some — not a lot, but some — selfpublished work originates from experienced and professional writers who have not tried approaching mainstream publishers. They do it themselves because they want control over the whole process and they want to make a bigger profit for each book sold. Sometimes they’re successful, often they’re not.
Second, it’s not usually the actual publishers — the individuals who carry that title within the companies — who read and then reject manuscripts from unknown authors. They’re far too busy. This job is carried out by other people, often 19- year- old interns. But that’s only if you’re lucky. Most submissions are discarded without a single read.
It’s not really the fault of the publishing houses; there’s just too much material coming in for them to evaluate properly.
Agents used to be an aid in the selecting process but now they too are often overwhelmed by material. The point is, rejection from a mainstream publisher doesn’t mean your work is no good; it often means it just hasn’t been looked at.
And third, some work does manage to get through the interns and is evaluated carefully by mainstream publishers — and then rejected — not on the basis of literary quality but because of marketing concerns. On several occasions in the past, I’ve had editorial staff in large publishing companies inform me that they have urged acceptance of my submitted manuscript, only to be overruled by marketing staff, ‘‘ it’s a hard book to categorise’’ being the overwhelming concern. Nothing to do with quality, importance or uniqueness, just the predicted numbers of sales from people who are good at reading spreadsheets. So some authors self- publish, for an assortment of reasons, and sometimes their work is as good as — and occasionally better than — most of what comes out of mainstream publishing houses.
In view of all this, I wrote a long letter to the Prime Minister and to the relevant minister ( Peter Garrett), pointing out the reasons why I thought the award guidelines were discriminatory and based on false assumptions — what I’ve written here focuses on just one of many dubious ideas that underpin the guidelines — and asked that they change the rules. I also pointed out that the state premiers’ literary awards don’t have such an ill- informed and discriminatory exclusion of self- published works. Neither of them has written back yet, and the deadline for entries has passed.
As a result, I’m playing with the idea of setting up an alternative competition. I thought something like Not the Prime Minister’s Awards Awards — which would accept self- published submissions as well as works put out by mainstream publishers — could bring some balance to the present situation and inject a little equity. I may have to apply for a federal grant to finance it but, hey, the new Government supports the arts, right?