Friday, 8 July 2011

Is There Any Mileage in a Literary Award for Self-Published Novels?

I asked this question on Twitter earlier on and was very interested in the range of responses. What is clear is that:

a) we still have no idea how to treat self-published novels in the realms of literature

b) there is massive stigma associated with self-publishing still

c) at the moment we have no clear criteria for judging the worth of a self-published book (clearly, reviews on Amazon are not going to help massively, unless there are more than ten, since friends and family are perfectly okay pitching in and helping to generate reviews).

Here are some of the responses:

@LizUK: Can you IMAGINE the onslaught of books you'd receive? It would make AR submission month look like a cakewalk.

@DarrenGoldsmith: But an award doesn't necessarily weed out the bad traditionally-published books? So much of this is about personal prefs.

@KTScribbles: That sounds like a good idea.

@AaronPound: That's an interesting question. Most of the self-published works I've read have been pretty bad (that doesn't mean all are).

@SamaelTB: Good luck to anyone given the job of shortlisting for that. Sounds like a nightmare job.

@E_M_Edwards: I don't think so. It will be a retrograde & ultimately futile effort to sub-categorize self published ebooks. #thatshiphassailed

@Colin_Barnes: how would it be judged? Could cause all kinds of worrying issues and skewing of data.

@LouMorgan: One could argue that better self-published books sometimes get picked up and re-released by a publisher... is that enough?

@Pallekenl: And what would be the criteria to be eligible? Like Liz said you'd be deluged by subs if you don't have criteria to exclude titles

Having seen those responses, what are your thoughts? Do you think there is a way to start awarding self-published novels? Do you have any ideas as to how to winnow the wheat from the chaff when it comes to the thousands of self-published being put out these days? How can we legitimise self-publishing? Do we want to - or is traditional publishing all we want to see?


  1. You could probably eliminate a good proportion fairly quickly just by looking at the blurbs. When browsing eBooks, I'm amazed at how many blurbs contain basic spelling and grammatical errors. And that's before you even get to the actual manuscript. Having said that, there are some fabulous eBooks out there.
    I think it would be a fabulous initiative.

  2. The Rubery Award accepts self-published books, and we entered one of our titles this year. A dedicated award would go a long way to legitimising (and celebrating) self-publishing, and could also help to raise standards.

  3. You could limit it based on titles submitted by readers instead of the authors. Say something like a minimum number of recommendations before being considered... 200? 2000?

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Part I

    A caveat: I'm in the processing of self-publishing a series of books, in e-format, so I wish to state my own self-interest in this question right up front - and my bias.

    I'm excited about the prospect, willing to take the risk, and believe that I have something that will uniquely benefit from the flexibility it offers. Good for me, then. How about the rest?

    Self-publishing is teetering on the edge of a radical sea-change. Both in its penetration of the overall readership and its perception among more critical elements. This of course, could be said for publishing as a whole, but ebooks are changing the future in ways that are hard to predict. Turbulent days ahead, but I believe that the industry as a whole, will benefit in the medium to long run. If we don't panic and lose our heads.

    There will always be a need and a role for traditional publishers, and traditionally published books. Both in various ebook formats and in our cherished paper. This is not a screed against publishers or agents, but at the same time, I think self-publishing is sending the wind up a lot of people's exposed backsides.

    They don't like it, or aren't sure what the scene will end up looking like a couple of years down the road (or even six months from now). I'm not surprised to still be hearing both negative and defensive comments admixed with more positive ones. Overall, they've been very supportive when queried, so I don't think it's a case of Us vs. Them.

    Quality, which brings us to Amanda's question about an award category, is the most frequent concern brought up in these discussions. I think it is both genuine, and overstated. It would be a mistake however, to carve out self-published books as their own sub-genre niches. Same too goes for awards. Readers I suspect, care very little about the distinction - and frankly, so do I. While I may not have an agent, I have a book. I think it is good, better than good, in fact. But it will need outside editing, absolutely. My own plans involve hiring just that, at various levels, mostly likely freelance and based on moving demands for the project.

    Self publishing can produce quality fiction. If you deny this, then you've basically closed yourself off to the potential of the medium, and our conversation stops. If you insist a self-published book is somehow inherently different, or inferior, I think you're doing much the same.

    But there are other concerns. Adam Christopher aka @ghostfinder on Twitter, has expressed a worry that an unstoppable tsunami of ebooks on popular download sites, will swamp visibility of traditionally published ebooks. Paul Jessup of the eponymous blog, Paul Jessup has had even more to say on the subject, so I recommend you check out his recent blog postings.

    But among them, is the worry that advances from publishers will be cut or dry up, as obviously, this whole model is thrown out the window with self-published work that is 100% independent, and author controlled (and funded).

    He is also dismayed to see a trend for the underselling of ebooks, at say 99p, that while may be worth exactly that or less on the market for poorly made efforts, fosters the same attitude that well may have contributed to the death of brick-and-mortar chain booksellers. Namely, where customers are willing to buy, but only on the cheap, at vastly reduced BOGOF and half or less priced points of sale. Already, there is some friction with how the buying public sees ebook pricing. This too, may threaten the revenues of traditionally published authors both online and for paper books if it spreads to silly levels of discounting.

    Now, I'd point out, both of above are authors, who have been published and/or have book deals through publishers. So while they have a keen insight into the overall process, they also possess a stake in the short-term health of traditional publishing. Fair cop, though, for the most part.


  7. Part II

    So a lot of worries and risks, what then are the rewards?

    First off, this can help authors whose work would be bypassed by bigger publishers - not because of quality, but because they're simply not as commercial or mainstream for their genre. This does happen. Self publishing authors have a lot less to lose taking big risks. They can try new formats, for a relatively small investment, and if they fail, try again.

    Normally an indie or smaller imprint might be the route, but many of these simply don't have the funding to pick up a lot of new authors, nor spend huge amounts on getting their books out. If anyone might be threatened by self-publishing and ebooks, I think it will be the smaller and more independent publishers. They'll have to adapt as well. They should be in theory more flexible, but they'll have fewer reserves to draw from, in order to weather the storm.

    I suspect we'll see a whole new set of tools developed to measure success among self-published e-verisons. Amazon is not equipped - yet, to handle this. Sites like Scribd may fare better or Smashwords. If they can tie in these new delivery systems with a ranking system based on downloads/reads and overall customer satisfaction. They or other sites, could produce some very dynamic methods for shifting the wheat from the chaff. This will be exciting, and could be a big step forward over traditional Amazon-styled reviews and rankings.

    And in that last bit, we have to trust the readership.

    Even if people download a dozen bad books to each good one they buy, they too will find new ways of browsing and selecting. Hard to predict what that will be, but it isn't going to happen overnight. Some patience is needed.

    As for published books sinking under the flood of crap, I think that the publishers and authors will simply have to push back, just as they've always done - first with showing off their innate strengths. But also with trailers, reviews, interviews, advertising, ARCs, and aggressive marketing and PR. In other words, they may have costs, but they have far deeper pockets.

    Obviously, some new strategies will be required and I'm sure innovative publishers like Angry Robot, Gollancz, Orbit and others, are already on it. Because strategies are needed fast, and implementation I think as well, if we're to keep the bumpy immediate path from overturning the whole business model in the middle of the road.

    But that's no reason to let fear of the unknown undermine what could be a very good way for authors to control, distribute, and experiment with what we all love - a good book.

    The future is in our hands, spread between authors, readers, and publishers, but then it always has been. In this at least, nothing has really changed.

  8. There are two fairly well-known awards that cater to the small- and self-publisher. Both have been around for a decade or more and honor books in all categories and genres.

    What keeps them from being inundated with submissions is the same thing that keeps subs for most literary awards manageable: submission fees :o)

    The Independent Publisher (IPPY) Award

    Electronic Publishing Industry Coalition (EPIC) Award (formerly EPPY)

    I have a friend who's gotten some good publicity out of touting his recent IPPY Award. And just a few days ago I used some marketing dollars to submit a multi-author anthology I edited to the EPIC folk for the 2012 awards. So it'll be next year before I know if the book 1) wins or is shortlisted for an award, or 2) what impact winning an award has on sales and perception.

  9. When pulp books were profitable, there were a vast number of titles. Now that margins on physical books has fallen and margins on ebooks is high, there will be a flood of titles. The problem is for paying readers - how to find authors/titles that are satisfying.

    Clearly a filtering mechanism, like some prizes. I guess we will see several in the next few years, with one or two becoming recognised as marks of quality.